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Dwight W. Morrow

Lawyer/U.S. Senator/Diplomat

Centurion, 1913–1931

Full Name Dwight Whitney Morrow

Born 11 January 1873 in Huntington, West Virginia

Died 5 October 1931 in Englewood, New Jersey

Buried Brookside Cemetery, Englewood, New Jersey

Proposed by John Woodruff Simpson and William Rutherford Mead

Elected 6 December 1913 at age forty

Archivist’s Note: Father-in-law of (nonmember) Charles Lindbergh

Century Memorial

It is not often that the death of a well-known citizen in his later fifties, who had already attained high distinction in two or three separate fields of professional and civic responsibility, whose activities, whether private or public, had been marked by notable achievement, will cause unanimous belief that he had been cut off on the threshold of a great career. This feeling was expressed instinctively regarding Dwight Whitney Morrow. Morrow had already lived out what in the view of most of us would be considered a full career; yet the judgment of those who knew him or who knew about him was that the future had held far larger opportunity for his particular qualities than had been presented by the past. It was only in middle life that his capacity for political leadership was discovered. But the fact that this capacity was accompanied by practical wisdom, high executive ability, insight into both men and things and, not least, by absolute courage of conviction, suggested at once to popular imagination that this might be the public man destined to meet an unusual public emergency. Events had seemed to point that way. Already chosen United States senator from New Jersey, by a popular majority greater by nearly 50,000 than was received by his party’s candidate for governor, there can be little doubt that Morrow’s personality and background would have meant much in a legislature confronted with unusual responsibilities. How much higher his political fortunes would have carried him would have rested on the lap of the gods.

The legend that the Class of 1895 at Amherst, in its Commencement-Day questionnaire on the member of the class most likely to be famous, gave all its votes to Dwight Morrow except one for Calvin Coolidge, and that this one was cast by Morrow, is so picturesque that it is certain always to be repeated in that form. As a matter of record, Morrow was named by the majority, his chief competitor being a classmate generally regarded as destined for obscurity, but receiving the vote of those ironical humorists who are active on such occasions. Nevertheless, the vote for Morrow was avowedly sincere, and Morrow himself admitted the conscientious casting of his own ballot for Coolidge. The two careers converged only slowly. Coolidge was mounting methodically each successive round of the political ladder while Morrow was winning his professional spurs, first as a practicing lawyer, then as partner in the house of Morgan. But in all of Morrow’s alternating tasks—the work for prison reform and workingmen’s compensation, the reconstruction of the New Haven Railway, the grappling with the ship-tonnage problem as civilian aide to Pershing, the ministry to Mexico at an hour of crisis, the London negotiations for limitation of naval armaments—his clear-sighted handling of the problem, his mastery of detail, yet his modesty over his own achievement, were the invariable outstanding qualities.

It was quite in line with his instinctive tactfulness that, when the Mexican president Calles reminded Morrow of the practice whereby each participant in the first official interview was permitted to bring his own confidential interpreter, Morrow should have expressed his preference to let the official Mexican interpreter do all requisite translating. It was a gesture particularly gratifying to Latin-American pride. Himself one of our eminent financiers, Morrow was neither deceived by the “New-Era” mania of 1928 and 1929 nor discouraged by the resultant cataclysm of 1930 and 1931. To one of his friends he remarked, in 1930, that the destructive variations of the economic cycle “might perhaps have been ironed out long ago, but for the financial community’s insistence that economic cycles had already been abolished.” For the very recent outcry of the panic-mongers and defeatists, their picture of the “break-down of the capitalistic system” and, incidentally, of modern civilization because stocks were falling, earnings shrinking, banks failing, and a frightened mob of international lenders running on the central banks, Morrow entertained and expressed quiet but none the less positive contempt.

When he accepted in 1930 the nomination for the Senate, a new kind of responsibility confronted him. That the abuses created by the Prohibition law stood then in the absolute forefront of public controversy, he knew; he also knew the attitude taken towards the question by the majority of public men. The picture was deplorably familiar. Some of them, while confessing in private their belief that the law was wrong and impossible of enforcement, professed in public to be unaware that any such controversy existed. Some declared, with the spirited attitude of the professional politician, that they would vote as their constituents seemed at the moment to prefer; if the constituency changed its view of national Prohibition, so would they. Others talked profoundly of “modification,” which would leave the United States constitution disfigured by a sumptuary law, but would permit a ukase from Washington to the effect that absorption of “light wines and beer” by American citizens was not a crime. Morrow brushed aside all this pusillanimous nonsense. In his acceptance speech he asked the voters “if it is well” that “large portions of our people should conceive of the Federal government as an alien, even a hostile power.” He reminded them of the formidable problems that surround “determination of how far a community can go in restricting individual liberty.” He warned them that they would be wise to “leave all local police duty to the states”; declared that such action “would distribute responsibility where it belongs,” and expressed his own reasoned belief that “this involved repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment,” restoration to the separate states of the power of restriction or prohibition, but the vesting in the Federal government of authority to give to states which desire prohibition “all possible protection against invasion from the states that do not.” None of us who recalls that episode of 1930 will forget the chorus of approval and admiration that arose throughout the country, not alone at the statesmanship of the position taken, but at the courage with which an ambitious candidate for public office had confronted the organized body of political fanatics who thereafter would infallibly make it their purpose to ensure his political destruction.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1932 Century Association Yearbook