How a Different Ryan Saved Roosevelt

Roosevelt and MundeleinCardinal Dolan's decision to help close the G.O.P. convention, assuming Hurrican Isaac doesn't beat him to it, has been the source of some controversy. You may have heard.

Anyways, this is, naturally, not the first time that a prominent Catholic has stepped into the U.S. political fray during a hotly contested election, in a manner that is NOT AN ENDORSEMENT, of course, if anyone is asking. In 1936, Roosevelt and his election team were worried enough that firebrand Father Charles Coughlin—a one-time supporter of the president who turned into a raving Roosevelt hater and international banker conspiracy enthusiast—would drive Catholic voters away from Roosevelt that they enlisted Father John Ryan to come to the president's defense. (Which Ryan is this? Find out more about this remarkable man here.)

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In the days before e-mail, that enlistment required a painstaking exchange of letters. Thank goodness because now we get to see a little how clerics are enticed to step in where angels fear to tread in letters between Ryan and Roosevelt's political handyman, John Hooey, preserved by the American Catholic History Classroom at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. Roosevelt scored somehwere in the vicinity of 70 to 81 percent of the Catholic vote after Ryan's speech; in these letters Hooey gives Ryan the credit for helping turn the Catholic tide Roosevelt's way.

Here's how the A.C.H.C. introduce the letters, which you can view in their glory here:

The Democratic National Committee reached out to Ryan through his old friend, James Hoey, a real estate broker and active Democrat who had become Collector of Internal Revenue in New York. Hoey expressed the Democratic Party's concerns about the [Coughlin's] Union Party's prospects, and especially about Coughlin's criticism of the President and his administration. Hoey, along with Senator Joseph O'Mahoney of Wyoming, requested that Father Ryan make some speech rebutting Coughlin's charges and offering his own analysis of Coughlin's economic theories. Ryan accepted the task, and spent several sessions with Hoey, O'Mahoney, and Charles E. Michelson, the Democrats' publicity chairman, in editing and revising the speech. The documents here consist of correspondence between Hoey and Ryan during the drafting of the "Roosevelt Safeguards America" speech, as well as Hoey's judgment of the speech's effectiveness following its delivery on October 8.

(Pictured top: Roosevelt with a different "George" from Chicago, Cardinal Mundelein)

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Joshua DeCuir
5 years 3 months ago
And Roosevelt opposed public sector unions, too!  The horror.
Vince Killoran
5 years 3 months ago
Fr. Ryan was amazing but I'm not certain he "saved" FDR. With the failure of capitalism and the grassroots protests popping up around the country FDR's "economic royalist" speech at the Dem. National Convention in Phil. in '36 was really more a reflection of where the nation was in the mid-1930s. BTW, Detroit's Cardinal Mooney was the one who silenced Coughlin.

Josh, I don't think FDR opposed public sector unions-his much-debated comments reflect his opposition to strikes.  Still, who cares? FDR didn't create the New Deal & social unionism (he famously told a group visiting the White House w/demands for social legislation, "Go out and make me do it."). Your comment though might be evidence that public sector unions don't get a free pass from public officials. Thanks for that.
JOHN SULLIVAN
5 years 2 months ago
I'd much prefer that a priest, much like Fr. Ryan, pray at the Democratic convention. Cardinal Dolan belongs with the Republicans.

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