(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 51 Isolationism and Pacifism:
Senator Rush D. Holt
and American Foreign Policy

By William E. Coffey

Volume 51 (1992), pp. 1-14

Pre-World War II pacifists and isolationists were rarely identified as fraternal associates by their war-era critics. In fact, despite their common opposition to United States involvement in foreign wars, journalists and scholars usually distinguished between the two groups and occasionally portrayed them as being ultimately antagonistic to one another. From this viewpoint, their relationship could be seen as analogous to that of Communists and Fascists, both opponents of liberal capitalism, both proponents of the authoritarian state, but both representing antithetical political extremes.

Especially if his anti-war position was grounded in Christian dogma, the pacifist was often accorded understanding, respect, and deferment from the draft. The isolationist, however, was frequently vilified. The two were distinguished, in part, on the basis of their alleged motives and world views. The pacifist was seen as an idealistic, if somewhat impractical, subscriber to international brotherhood and morality. The isolationist was condemned as a suspicious, niggardly and myopic chauvinist. The isolationist was also faulted for his inconsistency or relativity on the issue of war; some warfare he approved (if confined to the Western Hemisphere), while he opposed any warfare for an international cause. As Alexander DeConde has pointed out, "isolationism became charged with derogatory meaning. To some it became a dirty word."1

Subsequent to 1950, historians and political scientists gradually softened such rigid characterizations, treating isolationists with greater dispassion and sophistication. Consequently, the distinction between pacifists and isolationists faded, and various overlapping noninterventionist categories were created, sometimes with hyphenated terminology. Thus, John C. Donovan identified "two very different groups" of congressional isolationists, and he included pacifism as "a strand of American isolationism."2 Donald Drummond divided those who opposed the nation's involvement in war into three groups: "pacifists, internationalists, and nationalists or isolationists." According to Drummond, "all favored peace, but isolationists took a narrower position" than the others, viewing "war as an activity from which the United States should abstain except for immediate self-defense."3 Alexander DeConde recognized that "in the twentieth century we have had `isolationisms' rather than `isolationism'," and he included anti- militarism and pacifism among isolationist elements.4 More specific nomenclature was provided by Robert Dahl, who categorized a "pacifist- isolationist-reformist" group in Congress (and implied the existence of the "pacifist-isolationist-conservative"), which was "isolationist because of its pacifism; its members looked upon war as a destroyer of life and welfare."5

Later scholars did not completely accept Dahl's suggestion that some isolationists were motivated essentially by their abhorrence of war, or pacifism. Selig Adler's lengthy overview of twentieth-century isolationism made only limited reference to pacifism as a significant part of the isolationist impulse.6 While Manfred Jonas recognized the "fear of war" and pacifism manifested by many isolationists, he nevertheless contrasted them with "genuine pacifists."7 Among historians of the American pacifist movement, John K. Nelson portrayed isolationism and pacifism as "uncomfortable partners," and Lawrence S. Wittner wrote: "at the hard core of isolationism lay a belligerent nationalism, indifferent to the existence of foreign nations. . . . The peace movement marched to a different drummer."8

However, isolationism and pacifism were not always uncomfortable in or out of step in their mutual association. In the case of United States Senator Rush D. Holt (D) they coexisted as indistinct allies in an uncompromising resistance to America's intervention in a second world war. During his meteoric Senate career, Holt managed to occupy in succession Robert Dahl's two categories of "pacifist-isolationist- reformist" and "pacifist-isolationist-conservative."

When elected in 1934, Rush Holt of Weston was the youngest person ever to win a seat in the United States Senate. Having waited since the general election to attain his thirtieth birthday, as required by the Constitution, he was sworn into office in June 1935. He had won fame and high office in West Virginia as a champion of the common man and a critic of privately owned utility corporations. He benefitted from the enthusiastic backing of the United Mine Workers of America, and the blessing of West Virginia's Senator Matthew M. Neely (D). Though he proclaimed himself an unequivocal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, most knowledgeable observers (critics and sympathizers alike) viewed Holt as politically left of the president.

Soon after his accession to the Senate, Holt underwent a remarkable political metamorphosis. Believing himself denied a fair share of the patronage emanating from federal relief programs, he began in 1936 by attacking the Works Progress Administration for political corruption and inefficiency. Within months he emerged as one of the New Deal's most vocal conservative critics. Proudly independent, he sacrificed his alliance with Franklin Roosevelt, Matthew Neely, the United Mine Workers, and most rank and file Democrats in West Virginia. By maverick and impolitic behavior he condemned himself to a single Senate term. In the primary election of 1940 Holt placed only third in his bid for renomination. Though he remained politically active and later joined the Republican party, Holt failed to win another high office. 9

Holt's quixotic style could make him a questionable subject for logical analysis on an important public issue. But the "Boy Senator" always claimed philosophical consistency. Partly self-deceived and perhaps a little disingenuous, he viewed himself as faithful to pristine "liberal" and "progressive" values, while Roosevelt-style "big government" and John L. Lewis-inspired "big labor" trampled individual liberty. On at least one important matter Holt remained steadfast: throughout his Senate career and afterward, he opposed any American involvement in overseas warfare. After World War II began in Europe, Holt devoted himself to the noninterventionist cause at the expense of most other concerns. As Nebraska Senator Gerald P. Nye (R) later recalled, Holt was the only easterner in the Senate, with the exception of Massachusetts's David I. Walsh (D), who "stood by his guns" on the war issue.10 Holt took a stand without regard to political consequence and was motivated by isolationist and pacifistic feelings and principles. Though Holt did not fit the precise definition of a pacifist, his isolationism was determined chiefly by his abhorrence of war. A conditional but deeply felt pacifism was the chief wellspring for his unrelenting isolationism.

Holt viewed war as destructive of constitutional liberties, unnecessarily sacrificial of human life and material goods, and in most cases immoral. His pacifism was not dictated by religious scruples, for he held no firm theological convictions at the time. Nor did he condemn every war as unjustifiable; a war clearly in the defense of one's beleaguered and peace-loving homeland was legitimate. Like most of the noninterventionists prior to World War II, Holt discounted the likelihood of an unprovoked attack against the United States. Therefore, a European or an Asian war, regardless of the ultimate outcome, did not require American involvement. Holt's concept of homeland frontiers was limited to the forty-eight states. A strict anti-imperialist, Holt opposed North American military and economic intrusions into Latin America, and he was indifferent toward Canada, provided the United States had no presence or commitment there. At issue between Holt and most interventionists were their differing values. The latter believed in the efficacy of war to protect national interests, including those beyond the continent. The former viewed war as a greater evil than the threatened loss of peripheral or external interests, even those quite close to home.

Holt's conditional pacifism was rooted in his parentage. His father was a colorful small-town physician and horse trader. A political iconoclast and atheist, Dr. Matthew Holt abandoned the Republican party for William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s, and in the following decade supported the socialism of Eugene V Debs.12 Steadfast in his opposition to war, Matthew Holt attended the 1917 convention of the Socialist party in St. Louis and participated in the condemnation of America's role in the "Great Crusade" abroad. Consequently, the Holt family suffered at the hands of irate patriots in central West Virginia. There were banner headlines, surly mobs, and a flying brick which struck Mrs. Holt as she stood on her front porch. The Holt children were also harassed. The local school superintendent denounced their father before a school assembly and allegedly attempted to have Rush's grades reduced.13

Holt maintained the family tradition from his first arrival in Washington as a senator, where he contributed actively to pacifist objectives. In 1935, America was undergoing an agonized reaction to World War I. Holt needed no convincing, but he was impressed by the findings of Senator Nye's Special Committee to Investigate the Munitions Industry and by Helmut Englebrecht's Merchants of Death. Subsequently, he undertook a series of public appearances in support of the anti-war movement. In a CBS broadcast in June 1935, Holt urged young people to campaign to end war. "The problem of youth is to break down this militaristic propaganda that would send our youth onto the battlefields to die," he said.14 During the summer he delivered several additional radio addresses under the auspices of the National Council for Prevention of War. For a while, he considered undertaking a coast-to-coast crusade against war, but concluded that Senate demands were more pressing.15

Holt believed that to avoid war the United States must maintain strict neutrality in the event of conflict among other nations. Holt considered the Neutrality Act of 1935, which forbade the exportation of munitions to belligerents, "a wonderful step in the right direction." But he favored stiffer legislation which would ban American loans to nations at war. Loans, he said, were "more dangerous than arms" on the slippery road to war.16 Predictably, he supported the neutrality acts of 1936 and 1937, along with every amendment which would have made them more stringent.17

Holt also opposed Franklin Roosevelt's request for authority to discriminate between peace-loving and aggressor nations in the application of the neutrality laws. "The minute a government chooses an aggressor that minute we are in the war," Holt wrote for the New York Journal and American. "What does neutral mean? It means refraining from interference in a contest. When we choose sides we are interfering."18 When Italy threatened Ethiopia in 1935, the senator's suggestion was, "America should stay out of it."19 During the Spanish Civil War, Holt was besieged with letters and cards urging the United States to act in behalf of one side or the other. He answered them with a declaration in favor of "strict, mandatory neutrality."20

Though Holt sometimes prefaced his remarks on foreign policy with a perfunctory endorsement of "a strong national defense," his conduct reflected the anti-militarism inherent in his pacifism. As a member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, he opposed every administration request for increased military spending.21 Holt believed that reckless militarization would actually enhance the risk of American involvement in a war, reasoning that a well-armed nation is more likely to resort to arms than a weak one. Therefore, the United States would be more secure with a small army and navy. The "big Navy" proposals of the late 1930s especially alarmed the senator. Franklin Roosevelt, he once noted, "likes to play with boats. The country would be safer if he had some other hobby."22 Holt opposed a five hundred million dollar request for the navy in 1937 on the grounds that "defense does not include the building of ships to transport airplanes and troops to foreign soil."23 He was a vocal leader of the opposition to the 1938 Naval Expansion Bill sponsored by Representative Carl Vinson (D) of Georgia. By threatening a filibuster against the measure, he helped extend debate for two and a half weeks before it eventually won Senate approval.24 In February 1939, Holt sought unsuccessfully to limit the construction of new warplanes, which he viewed as potentially offensive and bound for the European conflict.25

Clearly, the "Boy Senator" had manifested pacifist traits prior to the 1939 war declarations. It remains to be shown that Holt expressed his pacifism unflinchingly in isolationist terminology. Some bitter-end noninterventionists, such as senators Burton K. Wheeler (D) of Montana and Gerald P Nye, objected to the "isolationist" label pinned to them by interventionists. Some claimed that they always favored internationalism in peaceful ways, while opposing military entanglement or "collective security."26 In contrast, Holt was an unabashed isolationist, who did not mind keeping the nation aloof from the international community in peace as well as war. Sharing his father's distaste for President Woodrow Wilson's Treaty of Versailles, he never favored American membership in the League of Nations, and in 1935 would have voted against World Court membership (the vote came before he officially took his Senate seat). Throughout his Senate term he opposed the reciprocal trade agreements program and faithfully represented the pro-tariff glass industry of West Virginia.27 Holt's single concession to internationalism was his attendance at the 1939 conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Oslo, where he was chairman of the American delegation assigned to study the reduction of armaments. However, he afterward condemned participation in the Inter- Parliamentary Union by congressmen as useless junketing.28 Holt's ardor for insulating the nation from war heightened with the danger after the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Isolation, rigid neutrality and anti-militarism remained his prescription for avoiding war. Chiefly a propagandist during his remaining months in the Senate, Holt engaged in lengthy, sometimes acrimonious Senate debates, traveled hundreds of miles for numerous speaking appearances, and delivered dozens of national and local radio broadcasts. Any rewards he realized from his proselytizing were intrinsic. It did not promote his already doubtful chance to win re-election to the Senate, he received little remuneration, and the travel undermined his health. His reputation was blackened by the "internationalist" press, and some of his associations during the crusade tainted him at considerable cost to his political future.29 Of course, in September 1939 most Americans, including the president, formally favored "neutrality." Roosevelt promptly applied the neutrality laws, then successfully called upon Congress to substitute a "cash and carry" policy for the arms embargo, and as part of the deal, to prohibit American ships from entering specified "danger zones." Roosevelt, and even some of the more determined noninterventionists, depicted the amendments as supportive of neutrality. But many isolationists and pacifists, including Rush Holt, opposed any tampering with the arms embargo. Holt viewed it as a first fateful step over the precipice to war.

On October 18, he expressed his view in a bitterly intoned day-long address to a handful of colleagues on the Senate floor. He underscored his theme with a rhetorical question: "Shall the United States of America become a merchant of death?" With the pacifist's indignation, he condemned the immorality of the munitions industry and the perfidious folly of changing rules in the course of a war in order to benefit one side at the expense of the other. The United States, he continued, was not threatened by attack from any nation. The nation's greatest peril was the deluding of Americans by British propaganda, which undermined true neutrality and prepared the public for eventual entry into the war.

Holt's fear of war blinded him to the distinctions others made between the "fascist aggressors" and the "peace-loving democracies." In Holt's words, "that great `democracy' [Britain] for which we are called upon to defend has an empire of nearly 600,000,000 people, which was gained by the sword. France has 4.6 million square miles of colonies." The senator systematically cited British "atrocities" against the Irish and the Boers, the British "betrayal" of Czechoslovakia at Munich, and the British "lies" to Arabs and Jews over the Palestine question. German aggression he conveniently attributed to the "unjust and punitive Versailles Treaty which caused untold suffering for the German people." Furthermore, he pointed out, it was Britain which had helped rearm Germany in recent years. Returning to the moral question of war, Holt concluded: "My vote will not be a vote for death; it will be a vote for peace, for I intend to vote to continue the embargo on arms, ammunition, and implements of war."30

Holt's remonstrances against the "cash and carry" amendment revealed his dislike for Great Britain and France. This opposition did not signify a sympathy for Nazi Germany. While he was invariably harsh in judgement of the Allies, Holt never expressed admiration for Hitler's Germany or any fascist state.31 Normally, he was cynical toward any belligerent's claim to moral righteousness. He often condemned what he called the "Sir Galahad" philosophy of international relations, which distinguishes between "good" and "bad" nations, "peace-loving" and "war-making" nations, "democracies" and "dictatorships."32 However, one international conflict in early 1940 curiously affected his conscience. That was the "Winter War," wherein the Soviet Union attacked neighboring Finland. While he could see "wrongs on both sides" in the German-Anglo-French conflict, Holt openly expressed sympathy for Finland, "that great little country." He nevertheless voted against a bill to extend a loan to Finland. "My sentiment was to vote for the bill," he explained. "My judgement told me to vote against it."33 In perhaps a more unusual departure from his isolationist position, Holt had earlier sympathized with the beleaguered republican government of Spain. Though several of his conservative supporters expressed disapproval, the senator signed a 1938 letter from about sixty congressmen extending "best wishes" to the Spanish Parliament as it convened at the height of the civil war.34

On May 14, 1940, young Senator Holt suffered defeat in the West Virginia primary. As a lame duck, he immersed himself unreservedly in the pacifist-isolationist cause. The debates on Capitol Hill escalated with the German spring offensive, and on June 3 Holt challenged Florida Senator Claude Pepper (D), when the latter demanded that Congress empower the president to sell arms to the Allies. Holt asked how far Pepper would go to support Britain and France in the event that limited aid failed to stop Germany. Pepper replied that it was a bridge he would cross when necessary.35

This exchange revealed the widening chasm separating the "internationalists" and the strict noninterventionists. The former could now entertain even the prospect of a war declaration, when during the previous autumn they had insisted that lifting the arms embargo would only insure America's nonbelligerency. The latter remained obdurate neutralists even while France collapsed before the Nazi war machine. When the Roosevelt administration revealed on June 6, 1940, the transfer of fifty American planes to the Allies, Holt remarked acidly that the plane deal was "just edging toward a declaration of war."36 Fearing that war could be presaged even by humanitarian gestures, Holt declined on June 18 to give the Senate's unanimous consent to a resolution empowering the president to send Red Cross mercy ships into war zones.37

The main event in Congress that summer was the Burke-Wadsworth Conscription Bill, the most controversial step taken to that date toward war-readiness. The United States had never before enacted a peacetime draft measure. Announcing his opposition to the bill soon after it was introduced in mid-July by Nebraska Senator Edward Burke (D) and New York Representative James Wadsworth (R), Holt was quickly joined by many of the noninterventionists and also by the highly respected Senator George Norris (R) of Nebraska, who heretofore had supported preparedness measures. The ensuing six-week debate was inordinately bitter, and Holt stood in the vortex of stormy acrimony.

The peacetime draft seemed to repel him more than any of the other steps on the road to war. Not only did it run counter to his pacifistic feelings, but it embraced government regimentation of the citizenry. Both as a fiery progressive in his early career and later as a more orthodox conservative, Holt consistently defended individual rights and freedoms. Conscription is "voluntary," he quipped. "If you don't want to be drafted you can go to jail for five years and pay a fine of $1O,000. I do@t like Hitlerized methods in America to conquer Hitler overseas." The real purpose of the draft bill, he predicted, was "to get an army for overseas."38

While debating the draft bill on the Senate floor, Holt engaged in a vitriolic and personal exchange with Sherman Minton (D) of Indiana, whom Holt described as the "smear artist for the New Deal."39 It began with formal remarks by Holt which questioned the patriotism of some persons who were spearheading the conscription drive, such as the membership of the exclusive Harvard Club of New York City. They supported the draft, he said, because they were people who would profit from another war. The "alien doctrine of conscription . . . came from foreign shores and was incubated in the banks and law firms . . . on Wall Street."40

Minton rose indignantly to complain that he was tired of lectures about patriotism. He then alleged that during World War I Holt's father had preached against even raising food to support American soldiers in France, while sending Matthew, his eldest son, to South America to avoid the draft. "I get a little impatient at being lectured from a slacker family," he argued. "A malicious lie," replied Holt. "If the administration wants filth to be thrown they get the Senator from Indiana to throw it." Minton retorted, "and when Hitler wants it thrown you throw it." With that Senate Democratic majority leader Alben Barkley of Kentucky invoked the rule prohibiting senators from making personal attacks on one another. Momentarily defused, the "debate" re-ignited that afternoon and on the following morning when the West Virginian defended the "honest patriotism" of his deceased father.41

Holt was pleased by the fact that press reaction to his diatribe with Minton was generally favorable.42 However, columnist Walter Lippmann, whom the senator read regularly with respect, was critical. Holt's offense, Lippmann wrote, "consisted in an effort to degrade the debate about the merits of the conscription bill into a class struggle between the rich and the poor." He concluded that Holt's behavior had abused the privileges of his office and debased the right of free speech.43

On several occasions prior to the final vote on the Burke-Wadsworth bill, the unshaken West Virginian found opportunities to address the Senate. His theme remained that of alleged economic motivation on the part of the bill's sponsors. Holt's stridency notwithstanding, the measure finally passed at the end of August by a 58 to 31 vote.44

During autumn 1940, the general election campaign afforded Holt, no longer a candidate, little opportunity for waging the anti-war fight. Initiative in foreign policy lay entirely with the president, and his opponents were only able to raise vain protests to the seriatim steps taken to aid Great Britain. In September the "destroyers for bases" deal was announced as an executive fait accompli. Threatening a "full discussion" of the transaction, Holt was only able to complain that the deal "was not the American way of doing things."45

In December the "Boy Senator"retired from the Senate at age 35, brooding over the likelihood of war under Franklin Roosevelt's leadership. His pessimism was reflected in an article published by the New York Journal and American. "Get ready, America, we are going to be asked to repeal the Johnson Act which prohibits loans to defaulters and to amend the Neutrality Act which was passed to keep this country out of war. . . . I believe in being frank. The move was to get us in the war and they knew it had to be done gradually."46

During 1941, Holt maintained his residence in Washington and modestly supported himself as a lecturer and author. Chief among his literary endeavors was the assembling of two anti-war manuscripts which he hoped would be published as books and sold at a profit. In June, Holt signed a contract with Flanders Hall Publishers of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a firm headed by Sigfrid Hauck. Holt's books were tentatively entitled Who's Who Among the Warmongers and The British Network in America, and were little more than compilations of his Senate speeches on these subjects. He promoted them as "straight from the shoulder attacks on the war crowd."47

After a personal investment of several hundred dollars and the preparation of page proofs, the deal with Flanders Hall collapsed. Holt learned that the company was registered with the State Department for anti-British publication, and he backed out of the contract. "Wish I could go over the situation personally," Holt wrote apologetically to Sigfrid Hauck. "I'm sure that you will agree with me about the matter. It will do no one good . . . to allow the enemies who want to plunge into the war to get anything that they would use . . . to injure the cause of peace."48

After Hauck was arrested as a foreign agent, Ralph Townsend, publisher of the isolationist Scribner's Commentator, showed interest in Holt's books, but the declaration of war following the Pearl Harbor attack made it pointless. Several weeks afterward, staff members of Scribner's were indicted by a federal grand jury for selling literature to certain fascist foreigners, and Holt wrote a letter of reference for Townsend which attested to the defendant's American patriotism. On the advice of California Senator Hiram Johnson (R), he rejected the offer of several friends who were willing to help him publish Who's Who Among the Warmongers in order to prove that there was nothing seditious in it.49

Holt's associations with extreme right-wingers during the anti-war crusade begs the question of whether anti-Semitic or anti-democratic prejudices rather than pacifism-isolationism might have triggered his actions. Among Holt's friends and supporters were the charismatic founders of the Union party, Father Charles E. Coughlin and Gerald L. K. Smith, both of whom engaged in virulent verbal and written attacks on Jews. As a senator, Holt did little to discourage the frequent anti-Semitic correspondence from George Deatherage, a resident of St. Albans. The senator also received plentiful mail from other reactionaries, many racist oriented, who considered him sympathetic. When once warned that Joe E. Williams, leader of the fascist Christian Mobilizers, planned to invite Holt as a guest speaker, the senator replied, "you say that if I speak for the organization I will run the danger of being labelled pro-Nazi. This does not scare me for such a thing would not convict me of being such a person. Just because a man is labelled something does not convict him of the crime."50

These relations notwithstanding, it would be incorrect to infer that Holt was motivated by native fascist or racist views. Opposition to American participation in the war seemed to be the single touchstone of his personal dealings during those months. On at least one occasion he was happy to appear with the Socialist Norman Thomas whom he greatly respected for his pacifistic and "progressive" views.51 He also made anti-war addresses before Jewish groups, counted several West Virginia Jews as longtime friends and political supporters, and eschewed racial or religious jokes and slurs in his personal language.52 With respect to political ideology, Holt was an established "conservative" opponent of the New Deal, a conservatism not inclined toward authoritarianism. Rather, he accused New Deal "liberals" of ignoring individual liberties in favor of autocratic social programs.

Though his efforts as an author in 1941 proved abortive, the former senator succeeded as a public lecturer. Most of his opportunities were provided through the sponsorship of the America First Committee, an influential group of politicians and other public figures opposed to Roosevelt's foreign policy. Although the committee came under frequent attack as being anti-Semitic and sympathetic to fascism, it played an important role in organizing noninterventionist sentiment nationwide. Holt did not seek his role with America First, having received an anxious appeal on August 4 from George B. Baldwin, secretary of the committee's National Speakers' Bureau. But he accepted and embarked almost immediately, though Baldwin promised only to pay expenses. There were no funds for fees.53

During the ensuing four months, Holt traveled with his new bride mainly by private automobile, sometimes by airplane, on a twenty-five thousand mile coast-to-coast junket. At dozens of rallies from Los Angeles to Boston he was usually the featured speaker, although in Grand Junction, Colorado, he received second billing in the presence of famed pilot Laura Ingalls.54

In his addresses Holt stressed that the Roosevelt administration was seeking to maneuver the United States into the European war. When, for example, the public was informed that American destroyers had been fired upon by German submarines, Holt blamed Franklin Roosevelt, not Adolf Hitler. ". . . I believe the crowd in Washington was hoping that there would be some American casualties that would create an incident to take us into the war."55

Since the first amending of the Neutrality Act in November 1939, Holt had been pessimistic about the likelihood of America's avoiding war. However, two years later the enthusiastic response of sometimes overflow audiences buoyed his spirit and gave rise to optimism. Having often predicted that the first steps in aid to the Allies would lead inevitably to war, Holt now sensed that, in spite of Roosevelt's machinations, the final barrier against a formal war declaration was increasingly formidable. Appearing in Denver on November 17, he asserted: "America can keep out of the war if American citizens keep fighting against `steps to war through the back door'." He noted that "enthusiasm for our cause is gaining ground. America First meetings have outdrawn intervention committee meetings by anywhere from five to one to ten to one."56 In Salt Lake City a day later, Holt predicted that opponents of the war would soon have a majority in Congress. He ascribed a rise in anti-war declaration sentiment (confirmed by public opinion polls) to a realization on the part of Americans that they had been taken to the precipice of war through "subterfuge, hypocrisy and dishonesty."57

The America First coalition and Holt's tour ended, of course, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Even then, Holt was unwilling to concede that there would be no future return to the sanctuary of isolationism and pacifism. This he revealed in a January 1942 letter to R. Douglas Stuart, Jr., former director of the America First Committee. "Our fight is not over. We must stand guard to see that the internationalists who wanted war from the first day of September, 1939, are not allowed to determine the future of our great country. They would commit us to everlasting wars everywhere."58

Embittered, especially by the accusations of pro-Nazi sympathies, but undeterred, Holt early conceived of a strategy by which the internationalists might someday be exposed. He outlined a course of action in a letter of April 28, 1942, to George N. Peek, the agricultural theorist of Moline, Illinois:

"If this country is committed to the policy of forever policing the world, we have lost the war. To win this war does not require us to follow Roosevelt and Wilkie [sic] into internationalism. The international crowd is a motley group. It contains New Dealers, communists, anglophiles, international bankers, and all these individuals can control. They are coordinating their program to silence any opposition. . . .

"That brings me to a point I think very important. We should plan also. We should start building now to stop internationalism from taking over America. We should gather facts, figures and data to meet the challenge."59

Illness from cancer and a religious conversion in 1946 mellowed Holt's bitterness somewhat without changing his basic pacifist-isolationist philosophy. In 1948 he attended and actively participated in an international conference of Moral Rearmament in Switzerland.60 He regained full admission to mainstream politics as the nearly successful gubernatorial nominee of West Virginia Republicans in 1952.

Holt's premature death in 1955 at age 49 preceded the revival of latter-day "neo-isolationism" and "selective pacifism." Certainly, he would have observed with ironic satisfaction the mutual harmony of these terms as expressed by opponents of American military intervention in Southeast Asia. Like many protestors of the 1960s and 1970s, Holt was strident, sometimes ill-mannered, moralistic and self- righteous in his campaign against militarism and war through "internationalism." He warned the nation against becoming the "policeman of the world" long before the epigram grew trite. Though Holt was an isolationist for many reasons, it was chiefly abhorrence of war, anti-imperialism, and belief in individual liberty and constitutional government that motivated his foreign policy views. Holt was a conditional, or selective pacifist, who pursued peace through the regimen of strict isolationism.


1. Alexander DeConde, "On Twentieth Century Isolationism," in Isolation and Security, ed. by Alexander DeConde (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1957), 5. Typical of scholars who distinguished between isolationists and pacifists was Frederick L. Schuman, who viewed opponents of Franklin Roosevelt's collective security suggestions as a "motley crowd of pacifists, appeasers, isolationists, enemy agents and muddleheads," in Night Over Europe (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1941), 553. Some critics of the isolationists faulted them for moral laxity or other personality defects. Forrest Davis and Ernest K. Lindley cited their "smugness, based on a continental state of mind, an indifference to and ignorance of the world about us," in How War Came: An American White Paper (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942), 316. Walter Johnson faulted the American public for so belatedly accepting its responsibility in the moral struggle against fascism and totalitarianism, in Battle Against Isolation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1944), 1-5. Allan Nevins described the "cynicism" of many isolationists who attempted "to destroy all distinctions between nations democratic and totalitarian, peace-loving and aggressive, painting them in nearly the same hues," in The New Deal and World Affairs, A Chronicle of International Affairs, 1933-1945 (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1950), 40-41. In his 1950 presidential address at the annual dinner of the American Historical Association, Samuel Eliot Morison castigated fellow historian Charles Beard, and especially his President Roosevelt and the Coming of War published in 1948. Beard's disservice, according to Morison, was that he left a generation of American youth utterly unprepared for a "war they had to fight," American Historical Review 56(1950-51): 261-75.

2. John C. Donovan, "Congressional Isolationists and the Roosevelt Foreign Policy," World Politics 3(April 1951): 299-316, reprinted in Causes and Consequences of World War II, ed. by Robert A. Devine (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969). Donovan identified the two brands of isolationists with key Senate personalities: the "Johnson-Borah group" and the "Nye-Clark-Vandenburg group."

3. Donald Drummond, The Passing of American Neutrality, 1937- 1941 (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1955), 27. For Drummond, the isolationists' real end was "national security." He did not specify avoidance of war as a possible ultimate purpose of some isolationists. Ibid., 19.

4. DeConde, "On Twentieth Century Isolationism," 4, 11, 22-23.

5. Robert A. Dahl, Congress and Foreign Policy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1964), 16. As his book provided little individual case analysis, Dahl invented only hypothetical, though useful, logical categories classifying the foreign policy positions of congressmen.

6. Selig Adler, The Isolationist Impulse: Its Twentieth Century Reaction (New York: Collier Books, 1961).

7. Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America, 1935-1941 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966), 16, 23, 260.

8. John K. Nelson, The Peace Prophets: American Pacifist Thought, 1919-1941 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1967), 134; Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels Against the War: The American Peace Movement, 1941-1960 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1969), 26. See also Charles Chatfield, For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1971), which in several passages makes clear distinctions between pacifists and isolationists.

9. For more on Holt, see William E. Coffey, "Rush D. Holt: The Boy Senator, 1905-1942" (Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1970.)

10. Interview by the author, Gerald P. Nye, Washington, DC, 3 June 1966.

11. New York Herald Tribune, 4 July 1940.

12. Matthew S. Holt to William S. Hays, 8 June 1921, Rush Dew Holt Collection, West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia Univ., hereafter referred to as Holt Coll.

13. Clarksburg Exponent, 12 April 1917; Rush D. Holt to Jasper Anglin, 9 December 1937, Anglin to Holt, 11 December 1937, Holt Coll.; interview by the author, Margaret Holt Early, Clarksburg, 5 August 1966; interview by the author, Matthew Holt, Jr., Weston, 8 August 1966.

14. Huntington Advertiser, 24 June 1935.

15. Gilbert Singer to Holt, 15 June and 27 September 1935, Holt Coll.; Fairmont West Virginian, 16 October 1935.

16. Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 17 September 1935.

17. Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 2nd sess., 1936, Vol. 82, pt. 2, 2292, 2306. Illness prevented Holt from voting on the Neutrality Act of 1937. Ibid., 75th Cong., 1st sess., 1937, Vol. 81, pt. 1, 1807.

18. New York Journal and American, 9 July 1939.

19. Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 17 September 1935.

20. Holt to Domenick Furfari, 18 March 1939, Holt correspondence, 1938-39, passim, Holt Coll.

21. Congressional Record, 75th Cong., 3rd sess., 1938, Vol. 83, pt. 5, 4851, pt. 6, 6135; 76th Cong., 1st sess., 1939, Vol. 84, pt. 5, 5702.

22. Holt to Hollis Osburn, 2 February 1938, Holt Coll.

23. Holt to J. M. Johnson, 24 March 1927, Holt Coll.

24. Morgantown Dominion News, 19 April 1938; Wheeling News Register, 27 April 1938; Huntington Advertiser, 28 April 1938; New York Post, 29 April 1938; Huntington Herald- Dispatch, 4 May 1938.

25. New York Sun, 25 February 1939.

26. This view was expressed very pointedly to the author in interviews with Burton K. Wheeler and Gerald P. Nye, Washington, DC, 3 June 1966.

27. Ray Tucker, "The Youngest Senator Talks of Youth," New York Times Magazine, 19 May 1935; Holt to Henry F. Grady, 15 October 1937, Charles E. Hodges to Holt, 1 December 1937, Holt to "Dear Friend" (mimeographed form letter) [1938], Holt to H. C. Ogden, 29 March 1940, Holt Coll.; Wheeling Intelligencer, 4 April 1938; Clarksburg Exponent, 6 May 1938; Philadelphia Record, 2 August 1938; Parkersburg News, 10 October 1938.

28. Charles Brooks Smith in the Wheeling Intelligencer, 29 February 1940.

29. George Creel authored a humiliating article on Holt, entitled "Youngest and Loudest," Collier's 19(December 1936): 17. In "The Senate Reseated: A Working Blueprint," Life 3(29 November 1937): 20-21, Holt was labeled "natural-born-hell-raiser"in a class by himself. Holt was smeared occasionally as a Nazi supporter by Walter Winchell and a few other columnists (see Holt to Gerald L. K. Smith, 8 March 1942, Holt Coll.). An editorial in the New York Herald Tribune, 17 September 1940, suggested that Holt could not better serve the cause of Nazi Germany if he were a paid enemy agent. Holt's campaign for a congressional seat in 1944 was damaged by publication of reports on the sedition cases involving German agents in the United States. Holt's dealings with Flanders Hall Publishers and Scribner's Commentator were revealed to the public, and Holt was listed with congressmen Stephen A. Day, Hamilton Fish, Jr., and Ernest Lundeen as having "collaborated" with George Sylvester Vierech, later convicted as a German agent, in O. John Rogge's The Official German Report: Nazi Penetration, 1924-1942; Pan Arabism, 1939-Today (New York: T. Yoseloff, 1961), 156-71, 272-73.

30. Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 2nd sess., 1939, Vol. 85, pt. 1, 541-67; Christian Science Monitor, 18 October 1939.

31. Holt sometimes spoke critically of fascist dictatorships, which he compared with the communist government of the Soviet Union. See, for example, Clarksburg Telegram, 19 May 1938.

32. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 April 1939; Clarksburg Exponent, 3 March 1939.

33. Holt to Rev. James M. Potter, 9 February 1940, Holt Coll.; Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 17 January 1940; Huntington Advertiser, 15 February 1940.

34. Wheeling News Register, 31 January 1938; John J. Quinn to Holt, 31 January 1938, Holt to Frank Paul, 19 February 1938, Holt Coll.

35. Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., 1940, Vol. 86, pt. 7, 7370.

36. New York Times, 7 June 1940.

37. Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., 1940, Vol. 86, pt. 5, 8490.

38. Washington Post, 29 July 1940.

39. Holt to H. C. Ogden, 12 August 1940, Holt Coll.

40. Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., 1940, Vol. 86, pt. 9, 9921-23.

41. Ibid., 9923-25, 9938-39, 9978-81.

42. Holt to H. C. Ogden, 12 August 1940, Holt Coll.

43. Walter Lippmann, in Los Angeles Times, 12 August 1940.

44. Congressional Record, 76th Cong., 3rd sess., 1940, Vol. 86, pt. 10, 10652-71, 10710-39, 11125-26.

45. Bluefield Sunset News, 9 September 1940.

46. New York Journal and American, 25 November 1940.

47. Sigfrid Hauck to Holt, 7 June 1941, Holt to Gerald L. K. Smith, 15 July 1941, Holt to Hiram W. Johnson, 16 and 26 March 1942, Holt Coll.

48. Holt to Hauck, 6 July 1941, Hauck to Holt, 6, 10, 14 July and 1, 16, 22 August 1941, Holt to Hauck, [August 1941], Holt Coll. The page proofs of both Holt manuscripts are extant in the Holt Coll.

49. Ralph Townsend to Holt, 3 October 1941, R. S. Cour to Holt, 24 February 1942, Townsend to Holt, 2 April 1942, Holt to Joseph Y. Reaves, 7 April 1942, Townsend to Holt, 9 April and 5 May 1942, Holt to Hiram Johnson, 16 March 1942, William G. Merrell to Holt, 6 April 1942, Merrell to Catherine Baldwin, 9 April 1942, Hiram Johnson to Holt, 18 March 1942, Holt Coll.

50. H. Wiland Bowman to Holt, 8 March 1940, Holt to Bowman, 12 March 1940, Holt Coll.

51. Washington Post, 2 August 1940. Unable to attend a testimonial dinner for Thomas on his fifty-second birthday, Holt expressed admiration for the Socialist leader to John Dewey. "Mr. Thomas is one of America's foremost thinkers. He has been known for his battles to assist those injured by the wrongs of an economic system. I admire the high plane of Mr. Thomas' lectures and writings," 16 November 1936, Holt Coll.

52. J. Leonard Baer to Holt, 20 August 193 7, Holt to Baer, 30 August 1937, Harry Friedgut to Holt, 14 September 1937, Robert Rosenblum to Holt, 19 January 1940, Holt to Rosenblum, 19 January 1940, Holt Coll.; interview, Margaret Holt Early; interview by the author, Jessie E. Taylor, Charleston, 13 July 1966; interview by the author, Abram J. Lubliner, Bluefield, 15 July 1966.

53. For a study of the America First Committee see Wayne S. Cole, America First: The Battle Against Intervention, 1940-1941 (1953; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1971). George Baldwin to Holt, 4 August 1941, Lulu E. Aver to Holt, 26 July 1941, Oscar Youngdale to Holt, 12 August 1941, Holt Coll.

54. See correspondence and clippings, August-December 1941, passim, Holt Coll.

55. New York Journal and American, 18 October 1941.

56. Holt to Richard A. Moore, 4 September 1941, Holt Coll.; Rocky Mountain News, 18 November 1941.

57. Salt Lake Tribune, 19 November 1941.

58. Holt to R. Douglas Stuart, Jr., 8 January 1942, Holt Coll.

59. Holt to George N. Peek, 28 April 1942, Holt Coll.

60. Interview by the author, Mrs. Rush D. Holt, Washington, DC, 19 March 1966.

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