My father's fourth term began with his formal resignation from H.U.A.C. The UnAmerican Activities Committee had an entirely conservative membership after my father's resignation in February 1943, because of the fact that his fellow liberals, Joseph Casey and John Dempsey, had already left the Committee before he did. He was now free to openly oppose the Committee and vote against its continuance, which he did between 1943 and 1946.
During the spring of 1943, my father discovered a contract between the Standard Oil Company and the Navy Department which, according to him, gave Standard virtually exclusive rights to develop and market petroleum from the Elk Hills Oil Reserve. The Reserve was located at the southern end of California's Central valley. It belonged to the federal government and it was managed by the Navy Department at that time as a strategic oil reserve, presumably to be used by the federal government only during periods of national emergency.
Some background between this agreement may be necessary to understand its significance. It is no mystery that an arrangement of this kind would take place between the Navy Department and Standard Oil. The Elk Hills Oil Reserve was rich in petroleum, and major oil companies had coveted it since the early 1920s, when access to the Reserve was given to a California-based oil concern by the then Secretary of Interior Albert B. Fall. This and other oil concessions unleashed the famous Teapot Dome controversy that resulted in Fall's being fined and sent to prison for bribery.
During 1943 and 1944, Frank Knox was Secretary of the Navy. He was also publisher of the Chicago Daily News and the GOP candidate for Vice President in 1936. Knox, a conservative Republican, was appointed by president Roosevelt to head the Navy Department in 1940 as part of an attempt by the national administration to get bipartisan support for its interventionist foreign policy. At the same time that Knox was appointed, President Roosevelt chose Henry Stimson, Hoover's Secretary of State, to be Secretary of War. An agreement between Knox and Standard can be described as inevitable. Standard wanted access to Elk Hills oil. Knox, a very pro-business conservative Republican, saw no reason why Standard should not be allowed access to such a rich oil reserve.
This agreement was a symbol of what my father vehemently campaigned against during his wartime years in Congress. In order to pursue the war, the Roosevelt Administration was moving sharply to the right. Republicans were members of the Cabinet, and these Republican Cabinet members and government officials were making convenient arrangements with big businesses at the expense of their smaller competitors, without too much regard for the long-term national interest. Elk Hills became one of my father's personal crusades.
My father's committee assignments played a crucial role in enabling him to get Congress to pass legislation which essentially amounted to a renegotiation of the Elk Hills agreement. During 1943, my father was a member of the public lands Committee. Within this Committee, my father and Assistant Attorney General Norman Littell gave testimony criticizing the Elk Hills contract and calling for its renegotiation. My father opposed the contract not only out a concern about possible monopolistic practices that might have been employed, but he also wanted the Elk Hills oil reserve preserved intact for future use. Obviously, he made an exception in case Elk Hills oil might be needed by the Navy during the war.
Because of these hearings held in the Committee of Public lands and because my father was a member of that Committee, Naval Affairs Committee Chairman Carl Venison of Georgia entered the Elk Hills debate in the spring of 1944. In June, Naval Affairs submitted a bill to the House which basically renegotiated the Elk Hills agreement and prevented Standard Oil from establishing exclusive, or near-exclusive, control over the exploitation and marketing of Elk Hills oil. The bill stipulated that Elk Hills would remain a national oil reserve. This corresponded with my father's wishes. (Preservation of the Elk Hills Oil Reserve was a crucial factor in enabling the United States to withstand the Arab oil boycott of 1973.) Although my father's Elk Hills crusade was correct, it produced a host of enemies politically and may have been one of the most important factors contributing to his defeat in 1946.
In addition to incurring the wrath of the Navy Department and Secretary Knox, my father's position on Elk Hills made Standard Oil and most petroleum companies either suspicious of him or active contributors to his political defeat. My father's monetary policies alienated California's largest bank, the Bank of America. His Elk Hills stand angered California's largest oil company, Standard Oil. His support for continued grain rationing in 1945 and 1946 earned him the enmity of California's biggest liquor company, the Seagrams Corporation. My father was making too many enemies.
In February 1943, my father resigned from H.U.A.C. During the same month he voted against the continuation of that Committee. Ideologically, he was back to where he was in 1938. He became increasingly liberal in the next Congress. For example, during 1945 he and about one hundred other liberal members of the House supported a bill advocating termination of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. This was one other case of a matter of principle which hurt my father politically. During the war years, the American public in general and 12th District voters in particular were suffering from a state of near panic regarding possible spies, saboteurs, and subversive groups which might help the axis powers and even make possible an enemy invasion of America itself. German U-boats were sinking American merchantmen within sight of New York City and the Carolina coast. The Japanese had conquered almost every American possession west of the international date line. At this time of panic and near hysteria, my father quit the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. This fact was not lost on anti-Communist and superpatriotic voters in the 12th District, who undoubtedly believed my father should have been supporting H.U.A.C. even more than he did before Pearl Harbor.
Finally, on the subject of rationing, price and wage controls, taxation and other wartime control measures, my father was somewhat of a hard-liner. This lost him a lot of support among farmers and small businessmen in the 12th District. He strongly supported the Office of Price Administration, or OPA, which was set up immediately after Pearl Harbor to control prices, wages, utility rates, rents, and other costs. Price and wage controls generally worked well during the war, and the OPA effectively limited price and other cost increases and prevented inflation. However, there was an active black market during the war years, and immediately after most price and wage controls were lifted during 1946 and 1947, there was a sharp increase In prices and in the overall cost of living.
My father also supported rationing, especially of grain and other food products - Finally, he favored taxation policies that would prevent excessive -war profits, an excess profits tax. This tax was anathema to Republicans as well as to many conservative independents and Democrats.
Interestingly enough, during these war years, while my father was moving further to the left, he wrote his first two books, Beyond Victory and Out of Debt Out of Danger. Beyond Victory was a blueprint for the post-war world, while Out of Debt Out of Danger spelled out his monetary policies.
University Library Special Collections •