Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Who was Harold Stassen?

     Harold E Stassen, born April 13, 1907on a farm in West St. Paul, Minnesota, was the middle son of William and Elsbeth (Mueller) Stassen.  His father, William, was a not only a truck farmer but was also elected as Mayor in 1921, serving three terms, on the Board of Education for many years and over 30 years on the police commission.  Needless to say, public service was no stranger to Harold.

     Harold graduated from Humboldt High School when he was 15 years old. He went to the University of Minnesota by day and worked many a part-time job by night.  He was elected All-Class President of the University in 1925, a debater and orator and captain of the rifle team, where he joined the MN R.O.T.C. and scored a perfect 400 at the rifle match in 1925.  He completed law school in three years and was admitted to the Minnesota Bar at age 21.

     The following year he married my great aunt Esther Glewwe and soon after was elected Dakota County Attorney.  Prohibition was underway and South St Paul was known for its "shady" characters and get-away cars due to the high number of "dry" bars and proximity of the stock yards and plenty of money exchanging hands.  This gave many opportunities to County Attorney Stassen to bring about justice in the courts.  He successfully argued his first case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court when he was 26. 
            "'Turmoil' is too weak a word to describe the political situation in Minnesota in 1938.
           Labor strikes and retaliatory lockouts produced killings in the streets; thugs and gangsters
       controlled the powerful Teamsters Union; angry mobs marched on the capitol building in
       St Paul and took over the Senate and House in a "sit in"; waste and political favoritism in
       government reached scandalous proportions. . . .
           Harold Stassen, then president of the Minnesota Young Republicans, formed an organization
       that startled not only the state but the nation by electing him governor in 1938, at the age of
       thirty-one.  His "Diaper Brigade" included a lieutenant governor even younger - twenty eight
       years - and the speaker of the lower house of the state legislature just under thirty years." 1

Their legislative record:
  •        Minnesota's first civil service law "to raise the standards of public service";
  •        New state purchasing system to eliminate political graft and reduce costs;
  •        A program to develop low grade iron ore;
  •        A law "to curb the small-loan sharks";
  •        A single tax commissioner to equalize tax assessments and make tax collection uniform;
  •       A balanced state budget
  •       A Labor Conciliation Law that provides for a "cooling off" period.

I Want To Be With Them

         With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese brought more change to Harold's career.  When he ran for reelection as governor in 1942, he announced in a radio broadcast from the Governor's Office on March 27, "The offensive drive for victory against the totalitarian forces that threaten the future of free men will be conducted in the main by the young men of my generation.  I want to be with them." 2 He won reelection.
         True to his word,  he would serve until the end of the legislature session and on April 27, 1943 would resign and leave the next day for active duty in the United States Navy.  Harold was assigned as Assistant Chief of Staff to Admiral William (Bull) Halsey, Commander of the Third Fleet in the Pacific. 

    The United Nations

              "The nations of the world must not merely agree that they wish to live together in peace;
    they must establish a mechanism of government to achieve that end." 3

         In February of 1945, President Roosevelt, named Stassen as part of the American delegation to the Founding Conference of the United Nations.  Two months later, with the death of President Roosevelt, the new President, Harry Truman, reappointed the original UN team and their negotiations began in late April.  At the end of the conference, Stassen was voted as one of two delegates who made the most effective contributions to the development of the UN Charter.  After signing the United Nations Charter, Stassen rejoined Admiral Halsey's staff aboard the Missouri.

    The End of World War II

         Harold Stassen was on morning watch on the bridge of the USS Missouri on August 12, 1945 when news came that Japan had surrendered.  He wrote in the Admiral's official log book "So closes the watch we have been looking forward to.  Unconditional surrender of Japan - with Admiral Halsey at sea in command of the greatest combined fighting fleet of all history.  There is a gleam in his eye on the bridge that is unmistakable!"   H.E. Stassen  4

         Before the formal surrender ceremony was to take place in September, Harold Stassen and Commodore Roger Simpson were given a special assignment, to supervise "Operation Benevolence" and rescue 14,000 American prisoners from a Japanese war camp.  Although Japan had surrendered, the war camp had not received official notice to release their prisoners and the fear was that the prisoners would all be killed before being released.  Family lore tells how Harold pulled up to the gates of the prison camp in a jeep, jumped out and said his orders were for the release of all prisoners.  The Japanese said they had no such order from their commanders and and by whose orders were these given.  Harold unholstered his gun and said by these orders and all of the men were released.

          Following their successful rescue mission, Harold returned to the USS Missouri and stood on deck with General Douglas MacArthur on September 2, 1945 for the signing of surrender from the Japanese and the end of WWII.  Harold was promoted to Captain and received the Legion of Honor, the Bronze Star and many other commendations and ribbons.  He returned to civilian life in 1946.

      Presidential Candidate 

            "Government of free men is the most difficult form to operate which man has ever devised.  It requires a high caliber of administration.  But the fruits are
     worth the labor."  5

         Harold Stassen took his first run for President in 1948.  Doing well in the primaries and garnering delegates, Stassen went to the Republican National Convention confident that he would do well.  But behind the scenes, wheelings and dealings put the Dewey-Warren ticket together and Harold's time was over.  He returned to Minnesota and in August of 1948 was invited to become president of the University of Pennsylvania.  He accepted at the urging of fellow president of Columbia University and close friend, Dwight D Eisenhower.   He stayed in this position until 1953. 

    Special Assistant to the President

              "General, you should be the next president of the United States. 
    It would be best for future world peace, and best for the
    national security and economic prosperity of the United States." 6

          Meanwhile, in 1951, Eisenhower left the States to take over as NATO Supreme Commander in Europe.  Stassen was determined that Eisenhower should run for the nomination of President in 1952, but Eisenhower was currently living overseas.  A committee sent Harold overseas to convince Eisenhower to return and run for President.  While waiting for Eisenhower to return to the states and retire from the Army, Harold Stassen, in an effort to keep the nomination from Robert Taft, mounted a second campaign for President.  At the National Convention in July of 1948, during the first ballot, Stassen had all of his delegates switch their votes to Eisenhower, guaranteeing him the nomination and the "I Like Ike" campaign was underway.

         After Eisenhower's win as President, Harold Stassen was called to Washington D.C. to take on a new role, as Director of Mutual Security, in charge of all foreign operations - foreign aid, foreign relief, all foreign operations except covert ones run by the CIA.  It was a Cabinet rank and he would also sit on the National Security Council.  Stassen was also named as Special Assistant to the President.  He was instrumental in helping the President write his remarks given at the Geneva Convention in 1949, when Eisenhower insisted that all embrace the "Open Skies" procedures allowing for arial photography of military facilities.  Stassen butted heads many times during the years with Secretary of State John Dulles, and after many years of travel and world peace efforts, Harold resigned from the Cabinet on February 15, 1958.

         He returned to Philadelphia and established a private law firm specializing in international law.  For the next twenty years he wrote many a paper expounding ways to bring peace to the world.  He ran for President a number of times.  He remarked when asked about those campaigns, "Certainly, I never suffered any delusions that lightening would suddenly strike and I would be nominated.  1948 gave me my one real chance; but each time, when I announced that I would run for President, I got a temporary forum to expound my views on economic policies, foreign actions, and on the UN.  Future world peace continues to be my most compelling interest." 7

         In 1978, Harold and Esther moved back to Minnesota and Sunfish Lake.  He set up his law practice in the Stassen building, which was in the original pasture of his father's farm. Harold, as the only original signer of the UN Charter still living, worked tirelessly on his views about the United Nations and the need for a new charter.  He published a draft charter that was published in October of 1985.  My father recalls the many times at family gatherings when all the men would gather around Harold and listen to his stories of international intrigue and the "who's who" of family and friends.  Harold was a gracious man, always listening and always listened to. 

         The family held a party for Harold Stassen on his 90th birthday, at the Radisson St. Paul Hotel overlooking the Mississippi River. Stassen received tributes from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the current president at the time, Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 8  Always the statesman, Harold also handed out copies of his book "Eisenhower, Turning the World Toward Peace." 

         A few years later in 2000, the State of Minnesota dedicated a new building the Harold E Stassen Building which now houses the MN Department of Revenue.

         Harold E Stassen, passed away on March 4, 2001, five months after his beloved wife Esther.  They are both buried at Acacia Cemetery in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

    Happy 105 Birthday
    Great Uncle Harold!

    1. "Eisenhower, Turning the World Toward Peace", Harold Stassen and Marshall Houts, Merrill/Magnus Publishing Company, St Paul, 1990, viii.
    2. "Man Was Meant to Be Free, Selected Statements of Governor Harold E Stassen, 1940-1951", Edited by Amos J Peaslee, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1951, p.25
    3. "Man Was Meant to Be Free", Peaslee, p45
    4. "Eisenhower, Turning the World Toward Peace", Stassen, pxiii
    5. "Man Was Meant to Be Free", Peaselee, p179
    6. "Eisenhower", Stassen, p1
    7. Ibed. p viii
    8. http://npaphistory.wikispaces.com
    Other excerpts are from "A Moment is History on the occassion of his 90th Birthday", Lois Glewwe 1997

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