Politics

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 371

This is the grave of Ogden Mills.

Born in 1884 in Newport, Rhode Island to the toniest of the Gilded Age elite, Mills grew up with all the luxury and his financial policies would reflect that. Mills graduated from Harvard in 1904 and then Harvard Law in 1907. He and his sister ran elite horse operations that included Seabiscuit. So as a pastime, since it’s not as if Mills had to work or anything, he decided to get into politics. I hardly need to tell you it was as a Republican. He moved to New York and was elected to the state senate in 1914. He resigned in 1917 to join the military in World War I, where his elite status made him a captain. He came back from the war and was then elected to Congress in 1920. He served three terms. In 1926, he ran for governor of New York, but Al Smith defeated him. As a consolation prize, Calvin Coolidge named him Undersecretary of the Treasury, second in command to the odious Andrew Mellon. Of course, Mills and Mellon shared similar reactionary beliefs on taxation and redistributive policies. The disastrous financial policies of Mellon during the Great Depression finally forced him out of office in 1932 and Mills replaced him as Secretary of the Treasury. Mills’s “solution” for the Depression was a massive reduction in government spending combined with tax increases to balance the federal budget for 1934. This would have simply deepened the Depression even more, based on the holy religion of balanced budgets. A very close advisor to Hoover, he hoped to stay on after the election, but that flew in the face of Hoover being the most unpopular president in American history and the 1932 election being such a repudiation of Republican policies that it reshaped the nation’s political scene for the next half-century.

In the aftermath of Roosevelt taking power, Mills was horrified and outraged by the New Deal. He was a loud public critic of FDR, representing the monied elite that Roosevelt knew well. Despite FDR’s single “I welcome their hatred” speech, in fact, FDR was very comfortable around the rich and much of the New Deal reinforced monopoly capitalism. But that didn’t assuage critics such as Mills, who saw things such as the National Labor Relations Act with horror. He wrote a couple of books on the evil of the New Deal, served on the corporate boards of various companies, and basically lived the life of an elite.

Mills wasn’t even 50 years old when he left the government. He could have had a long career ahead of him being a crank about big government and the like. But he also had heart disease and it killed him in 1937, at the age of 53.

Ogden Mills is buried in St. James Episcopal Churchyard, Hyde Park, New York.

If you would like this series to cover other Secretaries of the Treasury, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Just a quick look at Mills’ immediate successors shows that William Woodin is in Berwick, Pennsylvania and Henry Morgenthau is in Hawthorne, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.


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