WASHINGTON GOES TO MR. KNAPP and
Growing up in a home where Presidents , Governors, Senators came to call on his father J. F. , it was probably no big deal for Joseph Palmer Knapp to carry on that tradition.
During the formation of The New Deal, Roosevelt's men came to NY to seek his opinions and he also went to Washington to follow up on it. This is a piece of a memoir of Henry Wallace the Secretary of Agriculture and his advisor M.L. Wilson, that was published in the Survey Graphic Magazine in 1941. It gives you a glimpse of "Uncle Joe's" personality.
It is extraordinary, the emotional appeal that the second strain in Wilson's agricultural thinking exerted upon widely diverse and often powerful persons around the time of the 1933 bank holiday. "We seek the security of the earth," Clare Leighton has written, "when all around us trembles."
Joseph Knapp, largest owner of the Crowell publications,was not trembling. Other people attend to that for "Uncle Joe." But he was certainly amenable to Wilson's vision of a part time modern peasantry semi-removed from the tumult and strain of commerce. And there can be no harm now, at this late date, in telling how on two occasions, Uncle Joe Knapp, warmest-hearted of tycoons and among the most irascible, almost joined the New Deal.
The Old Man, as they call him at the Crowell shop, has a big place in coastal Carolina. His love of the land is expressed in large-handed local benefactions and in a passion for ducks. "Ducks unlimited" is his slogan. Arthur Hyde, Mr. Hoover's Secretary of Agriculture, was also somewhat duck-minded. Hyde published a piece in a Crowell magazine on the tragic irony of the barns and busted banks and the Old Man read the piece. He called in lawyers and went into a burst of national planning for open price covenants in industry. The attraction here was in some part that which had attracted Henry I. Harriman to Wilson's farm allotment plan; it foretold for industry a large out from under the antitrust laws, such as was later attempted under NRA. But Knapp's ideas were different from those of the Chamber of Commerce, under Harriman; Knapp wanted to induce industrial cooperation largely by baiting the offer with cheap governmental credit. (He would have been surprised to know how many dread liberals such as Rex Tugwell and Jerome Frank nourished similar plans).
Right in the middle of all this The Country Home came out with a piece about Wilson. Now the phones at Crowell really began to chime. The Old Man wanted to see this fellow, Lord, who had written the article. His friend, Arthur Hyde, told him the Wilson idea was no good. He wanted to see this Wilson, too. Wilson was in New York for a day. The interview was arranged. A couple of harassed Crowell executives took us in a cab to the Old Man's big Park Avenue apartment. "Try, for heaven's sake," one of them urged us, "to get him back on ducks!"
We were shown into the Old Man's presence. His profile is like the face on an Indian penny, his skin a rugged red, his bearing erect and peppery. A grand old Tory, if ever there was one, and he liked Wilson right away. We started talking about farm allotments, indicating-in deference to the Old Man's gamey notions-that there might well be feed in the "surplus" strips and fields for migrating wild-life. A long distance call came from Washington and Wilson left the room. One of the minions leaned forward and remarked in a placatory tone, "You're going to like Professor Wilson, Mr. Knapp." The Old Man switched a steely, imperious eye and answered: "Of course like him. I know a man when I see one."
We sat there waiting. Wilson returned and settled into a chair comfortably. With slow words and gestures he showed that the Hoover-Hyde plan of retiring only unproductive or marginal acres would not sufficiently reduce production and maintain prices. Then he developed the business or industrial implications of an openly planned production. The Old Man listened, asking sharp questions. Then Wilson unfolded his legs and rose. He walked over to where the Old Man sat by a wide, curtained window in a high-backed chair.
"Now, Mr. Knapp," he said, "you and I have agreed just about perfectly so far. But now I'm going to say something I don't believe you'll agree with. I'm going to tell you what I really want." He took hold of a thick brocaded window-drape and drew, it back. There was Park Avenue, St. Bartholemew's Church, the apartment palaces, the elevated and the Westside slums beyond. "I want to destroy all this," said Wilson.
He went on talking quietly, standing there by the window. "This is no way for people to live. I want to get them out on the ground with clean sunshine and air around them, and a garden for them to dig in, if they like. I want to get all these children off of streets, out on the land again. Spread out the cities, space the factories out, give people a chance to live so they'll know what life is all about-that's what I want."
"Mr. Wilson," the Old Man told him as we were leaving, "I've never voted for a Democrat in my life. But if that's your New Deal, I'll vote for it; and I'm with you 100 percent."
A few weeks later, still in that happy time when the Deal was really New and all the cards were being played face up with spirit and abandon, the Old Man and three aides came to Washington to talk with Wilson and Secretary Wallace about Industrial (as compared with Agricultural) Adjustment. The Knapp plan was being circulated in typescript. Many New Dealers in agriculture liked it better than the plan furthered by Harriman and the Chamber of Commerce (later NRA). Under a loose cooperative arrangement then rather common, I was working on loan from my company-Crowell-as an assistant to the Secretary, and I took the delegation in to introduce them to Wallace. With his customary air of amiable diffidence Wallace came from behind his desk to shake hands. He said a few words of praise for certain features of the Knapp plan. Then we all sat down.
"Young man," said the Old Man, abruptly. "You're tired. But you're young. I envy you. You have the greatest power and the greatest opportunity in your hands at this moment of any American who ever"- He broke off abruptly, and, "My God!" he cried. "What's that?"
A white rabbit had come out from under a radiator,
gently ambling and nibbling at the carpet. "It's a rabbit,"
said the Secretary. The Old Man passed a hand across his eyes.
The rabbit misbehaved. An alert colored man, Edward, then the
Secretary's messenger, came scurrying to scoop up the rabbit with
one hand and the droppings with the other. They
went away. The Secretary explained that the rabbit was his boy's, Henrys'; and it was sick; so he had brought it down to have a friend in the Department, a vet, look it over.
Everybody laughed and there was some attempt to get the talk back on the subject of the Knapp plan; but no go. The Old Man rose abruptly. "Can't you see this man's tired?" Then to Wallace: "God bless you!" They passed into the anteroom. "Now," said the Old Man, "where do I find Wilson?" We took him up to Wilson's office as chief of Triple-A's new wheat section, and they talked for the better part of an hour. From this and subsequent conversations grew the report of the Thomas A. Beck-J. N. Darling-Aldo Leopold committee on Wild Life Restoration, and from this came "Ding" Darling's breezy spell of service as chief of the Biological Survey. But that visit was, so far as I know, Uncle Joe Knapp's last appearance in Washington or anywhere else as a hundred percent New Dealer.