Claude Bowers

Claude Gernade Bowers (November 20, 1878 in Westfield, Indiana – January 21, 1958 in New York City) was a newspaper columnist and editor, author of best-selling books on American history, Democratic Party politician, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s ambassador to Spain (1933-1939) and Chile (1939-1953).[1] His histories of the Democratic Party in its formative years from the 1790s to the 1830s helped shape the party’s self-image as a powerful force against monopoly and privilege.

American journalist and politician (1878-1958)

Claude Bowers
United States Ambassador to Chile
In office
September 7, 1939  September 2, 1953
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Norman Armour
Succeeded by Willard L. Beaulac
United States Ambassador to Spain
In office
June 1, 1933  February 2, 1939
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Irwin B. Laughlin
Succeeded by H. Freeman Matthews (Acting); Alexander W. Weddell
Personal details
Claude Gernade Bowers

(1878-11-20)November 20, 1878
Westfield, Indiana, U.S.

Died January 21, 1958(1958-01-21) (aged 79)
New York, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sybil McCaslin Bowers
Children Patricia Bowers
Education High school
  • Newspaper writer and editor
  • senatorial secretary
  • ambassador to Spain and Chile
Writing career
Language English
Period First half of twentieth century
Genre Popular history
Subject American politics
Notable works The Party Battles of the Jackson Period (1922)
Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (1925)
The Tragic Era: The Revolution after Lincoln (1929)
Years active 1916–1953

Bowers was ambassador to Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). At first he recommended the United States join other nations in a Non-intervention Agreement. When it soon became clear that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in violation of the Agreement, were openly helping the Nationalist rebels, he unsuccessfully pressed Washington to aid the government of the Spanish Republic. He left Spain when it became clear, in early 1939, that the rebels, led by the dictator Francisco Franco, had won the war. Later that year, he became U.S. Ambassador to Chile, which had a leftist government more to his liking.

In domestic affairs he considered himself a staunch Jeffersonian, and was increasingly dismayed at the New Deal interventions into the economy, but kept quiet about it.

Three of Bower’s books were genuine best-sellers, “but he is little remembered today except by political historians”.[2]

. . . Claude Bowers . . .

Bowers was the son of a small-time Indiana shopkeeper, Lewis Bowers, who died when he was 12. His mother, Juliet Tipton Bowers, moved to Indianapolis, and Bowers graduated from Shortridge High School there in 1898. He was a voracious reader: “Irish oratory, English poetry, and history of all kinds were his favorite study.”[3] He demonstrated “intellectual excitement”.[4] He was a champion debater, “when debate was more important than basketball”, and won the Indiana State High School Oratorical Contest with a speech on “Hamilton the Constructionist.”[5]

Finances made college impossible; even high school (not dropping out of school to work) had been a financial challenge. Beyond high school, Bowers was self-taught.[6]:249

He began his career in 1901 as a journalist writing editorials for the Indianapolis Sentinel, “filling in for a friend who wanted to go fishing”. He worked as reporter and editorial writer for a variety of Indiana newspapers.

In 1903 Bowers left Indianapolis to work for the Terre Haute Gazette, and then moved to the Terre Haute Star as editorial writer. It was there that he became friends with Eugene V. Debs, head of the Socialist Party of America and repeated candidate for president and other offices on its “ticket“.[7]:98

At the urging of Terre Haute Representative and then Attorney General of IndianaJohn Edward Lamb, Bowers was chosen in 1904 as Democratic candidate for Congress for the district that includes Terre Haute. He campaigned hard but lost in a Republican landslide. He was renominated unanimously in 1904, but lost again.[7]:98 Though he lost, the experience polished his abundant speaking skills. He was “much in demand as a speaker”.[8] The political activity led to a “political position”: he accepted an appointment to the Terre Haute Board of Public Improvements, serving unhappily from 1906 to 1911.[6]:250

From 1911 to 1916 he was secretary to Senate majority leader John W. Kern. This allowed him access to leading politicians of the time, including President Woodrow Wilson. “He gained national prominence in the party.”[7]:98 He defended the League of Nations, a principal project of Wilson. Since Kern was Democratic leader of the Senate and was absent from the office for days at a time because of caucuses, conferences, and floor strategy, Bowers did the full routine work, making him ex officio senator from Indiana.[6]:250 Kern was defeated in the 1916 election, and Bowers returned to Indiana and accepted a position at the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.[7]:98 Kern died in 1917 and Bowers published the following year a biography of him.[9] Much later, Bowers published a biography of the man Kern defeated in 1910, Albert Beveridge.[10]

Described as “an ardent Democrat”,[11]:26 he was chairman of the Platform Committee of the Democratic Party in 1918. He declined the party’s 1918 offer of the post of Indiana Secretary of State.[7]:98–99

His book The Party Battles of the Jackson Period (1922) was well received, and led to a 1923 invitation, which he accepted, to join the editorial staff of the influential New York World,[7]:99 the nation’s leading Democratic newspaper. When it folded in 1931, he became a political columnist for the New York Journal from 1931 to 1933.[11]

He was a frequent public speaker, and in 1929 was described as “best known now as an orator”, although “he gained first fame as a writer of historical works”.[12] He was a speechwriter for and advisor to 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith.[13] He became a close friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt;[7] the only book review Roosevelt ever wrote was in response to Bowers’ request for a review of his 1925 Jefferson and Hamilton.[14] “As a result of Roosevelt’s lobbying”,[11]:28 he was the keynote speaker at the 1928 Democratic National Convention. His speech was broadcast nationally by radio.[15]

. . . Claude Bowers . . .

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. . . Claude Bowers . . .

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