Raymond Moley (1886-1975)

Raymond Moley was one of the five original members of President Roosevelt’s “Brains Trust” [1].  As a top adviser, he helped write FDR’s speeches and played a key role in many of the administration’s early policies, such as the regulation of agriculture.  He is credited with coining the phrase, “New Deal,” which showed up in Roosevelt’s acceptance speech at the 1932 Democratic National Convention [2].  As a scholar from Columbia University, Moley recognized the unique opportunity afforded to him and his fellow Brain Trusters, observing that, “In the last two or three years political life has turned to academic life with a persistence and a fairness and a receptiveness to new ideas that I don’t think ever happened before” [3].

Raymond Charles Moley was born in Berea, Ohio on September 27, 1886, to Felix and Agnes Moley.  Taking after his father, Raymond became interested in politics at a very young age.  This interest would ultimately lead to a Ph.D. in political science at Columbia University in 1918.  Moley then became director of the Cleveland Foundation, which today is the oldest community foundation in the country [4].  During his years at the foundation, Moley became an expert on criminal justice, which led to a professorship at Columbia University in 1923.  It also caught the eye of Louis Howe, FDR’s close friend and adviser, who was working for the National Crime Commission at the time (c. 1924).  By 1928, Howe had brought Moley into Governor Roosevelt’s inner circle of political aides.  By the time FDR entered the White House, Moley was so influential that a popular joke had a friend of the president asking, “Franklin, can you do me just one favor?  Can you get me an appointment with Moley?” [5].

During the New Deal years, Moley vacillated between conservatism and progressivism.  On the conservative side, he was a proponent of the Gold Standard and a balanced budget, hesitated when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was first proposed, and he tried to dissuade the president from backing certain corporate tax increases [6].  On the progressive side, he pushed for more government oversight of industry [7] and eventually supported work-relief programs, even calling for their permanency in an article discussing economic recovery: “There will be, however, as there always has been, a permanent unemployed residue… whatever its size, it deserves attention… These groups must be given work which will mean the building of a better nation… This means the continuation of the CCC as a permanent activity of the government and the continuation of the CWA, on a very small scale, under sound administration” [8].

Moley’s relatively conservative disposition—and perhaps an overly sensitive personality—led to his falling out with the Roosevelt Administration.  He took it personally when he was the US representative at a key international conference to restore the Gold Standard and FDR suddenly broke with orthodoxy and took the country off gold [9].  Moley’s gradual estrangement from the Administration led to him support Roosevelt’s White House challenger, Republican Wendell Wilkie, in 1940.  From that point on, Moley was a supporter of conservative politics and a fierce critic of the New Deal [10].

Moley died on February 18, 1975, at the age of 88.  He was survived by his wife Frances, two sons, and a daughter.  Upon his passing, Albin Krebs of the New York Times opined that Moley’s star in the New Deal was short-lived, but “while it shone it cast a brilliant light” [11].

Sources: (1) Rexford Tugwell, The Brains Trust, New York: Viking Press, 1968, pp. xi-xii.  The other original Brain Trusters were Adolf Berle, Rexford Tugwell, Samuel Rosenman, and D. Basil O’Connor.  (2) “Raymond Moley, Roosevelt Aide, Dies; Brain Trust Leader, Coined ‘New Deal,’” New York Times, February 19, 1975.  (3)“Brain-Trust Inspiration,” New York Times, February 24, 1935.  (4) See note 2; and also see The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, at “Moley, Raymond” and “Cleveland Foundation” (both accessed March 14, 2016).  (5) See note 2.  (6) Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History, New York: Free Press, 2011, pp. 58-60, 66, and 339.  (7) See note 2.  (8) “Moley Forecasts Permanent Relief,” New York Times, February 23, 1934.  (9) For a discussion on the gold standard controversy, see Barry Eichengreen, Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses and Misuses of History, Oxford University Press, 2015.  (10) See note 2, and note 4 at “Moley, Raymond.”  (11) See note 2.

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