ONE OF FDR’S LAST PROJECTS, DAYS BEFORE HIS DEATH: RARE 1945 PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVE CONCERNING CHARGES OF COMMUNISM DIRECTED AT JOSEPH LASH, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING BIOGRAPHER AND CLOSE FRIEND OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, WITH THREE TYPED FDR MEMOS,TYPED LETTER SIGNED BY SECRETARY OF WAR STIMSON, AND AUTOGRAPH NOTE SIGNED BY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT TO HER SON-IN-LAW
(ROOSEVELT, Franklin D, ROOSEVELT, Eleanor, STIMSON, Henry). Joseph Lash Archive. WITH: (ROOSEVELT, Eleanor). Autograph note signed; (ROOSEVELT, Franklin) Three notes typed; (STIMSON, Henry L.) Typed letter signed. Washington, D.C. / [Warm Springs]: White House / War Department, 1945. Seven items. Presidential archive, original typed letter on ivory War Department letterhead, printed “Secret,” signed by Secretary of War Stimson; three original typed memos on ivory White House letterhead, plain envelope addressed in type and manuscript; single autograph note signed on small ivory card printed “Mrs. Roosevelt,” small White House envelope addressed in manuscript. $5000.
1945 archive of rare presidential materials largely concerning charges of communism aimed at Eleanor Roosevelt’s intimate friend and future biographer Joseph Lash, including a typed letter to FDR on War Department letterhead printed “SECRET,” signed by Secretary of War Stimson, informing FDR of congressional inquiries about Lash from from a special committee on “subversive personnel”—prompting FDR to write three urgent memos from Warm Springs, one to Stimson telling him to “take no action,” one to Eleanor Roosevelt about “the same crowd… trying to ‘get’ Joe,” and a third to his son-in-law John Boettiger asking him to contact Stimson, the latter memo dated only three days before FDR’s sudden death from a cerebral hemorrhage, also containing a warm autograph note signed by Eleanor Roosevelt to her son-in-law Boettiger.
This rare archive of presidential materials largely concerns Joseph Lash, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, whose friendship of over 20 years with the First Lady was one that her daughter, Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, called “as close a relationship as I ever knew Mother to have.” Lash, who “had been swept up in the revolutionary fervor of the 1930s,” was a one-time member of the Socialist Party and “had served as national secretary of the American Student Union, a militant popular-front organization committed to radical change” (Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time, 122). Lash met Mrs. Roosevelt in 1939 when he was called to testify in 1939 before the anti-communist Dies Committee. The two quickly became close— sharing an intimate yet platonic friendship that would attract the interest of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. After the U.S. entered the war, Mrs. Roosevelt intervened on Lash’s behalf and “pulled strings in an attempt to get him a commission in Naval Intelligence. But, given his ‘suspected communist affiliations,’ the Navy didn’t want him, in any capacity, and in April 1942 Lash was drafted into the Army” (Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, 304). This fascinating archive, featuring a typed 1945 letter to FDR, printed “Secret” and signed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, raises afresh the implications of Lash’s radical past and his friendship with both the President and First Lady. In Stimson’s letter he observes that FDR had directed that Sergeant Lash be “not precluded from attending [Army] Officer Candidate School because of his beliefs and affiliations in civilian life.” Facing news of a fresh Army investigation, Stimson recommends Lash “should be removed from Officer Candidate School without further delay.” In three subsequent memos from FDR, typed on on White House stationary with each signed in type by FDR, he separately urges Stimson to take no immediate action on Lash and individually urges both Eleanor Roosevelt and the Roosevelts’ son-in-law Colonel John Boettiger to find out who is again “trying to ‘get’ Joe… probably the same crowd.” FDR’s memos are dated during his stay in Warm Springs, at a time when he was planning a trip on April 20 to San Francisco for the opening session of the United Nations. At the time of his correspondence, Eleanor was in Hyde Park. Three days after FDR’s April 9 memo to Boettiger, the President suddenly collapsed and died from a cerebral hemorrhage. Joseph Lash would become a distinguished historian, writing biographies of figures such as Dag Hammarskjold and Helen Keller. “But it was Eleanor and Franklin, the first installment in his two-volume biography of Mrs. Roosevelt, that won him the most enduring fame” and earned him the Pulitzer Prize (New York Times). Also included in this archive is a separate autograph note signed by Eleanor Roosevelt to John Boettiger. A full description and transcription of materials in the archive follows.
I. Typed letter signed by Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, to President Roosevelt. On single sheet of ivory War Department letterhead with “Secret” printed in uppercase at upper and lower edges. Typescript on recto only reads: “Dear Mr. President: Technical Sergeant Joseph Lash was admitted on January 18 to Officer Candidate School in accordance with what is understood to have been your direction to General Watson to see that Sergeant Lash was not precluded from attending Officer Candidate School because of his beliefs and affiliations in civilian life. At present he is undergoing training to qualify him for a commission. There has been brought to my attention the result of an Army investigation of Sergeant Lash, while a soldier and without reference to his civilian activities before induction. This investigation indicates that Sergeant Lash lacks the necessary qualifications expected in an officer. Sergeant Lash has stated in writing that while a soldier his job was to work out ways by which the Army could be made a political force. This statement, even without his continued maintenance of political contacts while in the Army, requires me to conclude that Sergeant Lash has such a misconception of his function in the Army that he should not be commissioned or assigned to sensitive duties and should be removed from Officer Candidate School without further delay. I wished you to be informed of the situation and the action I propose to take unless I hear from you to the contrary. I think you know that the Military Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives has appointed a Special Committee to investigate the commissioning of subversive personnel. This Special Committee has expressed deep interest and is specifically inquiring as to the case of Sergeant Lash. There is every indication that the Special Committee will press us for information regarding Sergeant Lash and his beliefs and activities, which I feel must, in accordance with our usual practice, be kept confidential; but irrespective of the investigation, I have concluded that the action I have outlined above is necessary. Respectively yours, [signed in manuscript] Henry L. Stimson [typescript] Secretary of War. [At lower left] The President. The White House.”
II. Three typed notes signed in type by FDR. Each on ivory White House letterhead, each measuring 5 by 8 inches, each with typescript on recto only.
Typescript: “April 6, 1945. MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF WAR [uppercase in original] Please take no action in regard to Sergeant Lash continuing at Officer Candidate School until my return. [signed in type] F.D.R.”
Typescript: “April 6, 1945. MEMORANDUM FOR E.R. [uppercase in original] The enclosed took me entirely by surprise this morning. Apparently they (probably the same crowd) are trying to ‘get’ Joe. I think that speed is essential and I wired Stimson today to do nothing further about withholding his commission until I get back. In the meantime, I think it important that you should see Stimson about it. His former connections apparently had nothing to do with the case and the evidence is apparently new in regard to his political activities. Exactly what this evidence is, I have no way of telling. Therefore, it seems best that you should take it up with Stimson. [signed in type] F.D.R.”
Typescript: “April 9, 1945. MEMORANDUM FOR COLONEL JOHN BOETTIGER” [uppercase in original] Dear John: In regard to the man we were speaking of the other day, I wish you would find out from the Secretary of War just what there is against him at the present time. The Secretary tells me that it had nothing to do with his opinions of several years ago, sometime before he was in the Army. [signed in type] F.D.R.”
WITH: Plain unstamped ivory envelope (measures 4 by 9-1/2 inches), no postmark, addressed in type: “Miss Grace Tully, The White House, Washington, D.C.” Typed address crossed over in pencil and penciled above in an unidentified hand: “Anne Boettiger.”
III. Autograph card signed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Ivory card (measures 2-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches) with printed “Mrs. Roosevelt” on the recto, containing her manuscript note on the recto: “John dear, don’t cut yourself! I enclose a p— L— [unclear] knife. [five unclear words] May you [unclear] be happy & remember how much I love you all. L.L.”
WITH: Small ivory envelope (measures 3-3/4 by 4-3/4 inches) with printed “The White House Washington” in the upper left corner. Addressed in the manuscript hand of Eleanor Roosevelt: “John.”
Archive materials fresh and clean with only faint foldlines. An exceptional collection of controversial presidential materials in about-fine condition.