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Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party Hardcover – November 14, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0674057173 ISBN-10: 0674057171 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (November 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674057171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674057173
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,660,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dunn's examination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's summer of '38, when he attempted to rid his party of conservative elements, couldn't be more relevant. The author colorfully and thoroughly chronicles the strategies that a once-popular president, who had helped America rise from a debilitating depression, employed when critics within his own party threatened his New Deal legislation. "Roosevelt would fight back - impulsively haphazardly, emotionally, boldly... it was a highly risky venture that had danger signs written all over it." Roosevelt helped manipulate the outcome of democratic primaries and supported liberals who challenged the seats of conservative incumbents. "Reporters branded his tactic a 'purge' - and the inflammatory label stuck." Even though FDR's efforts ultimately failed, costing him political capital and bringing a beating upon Democrats in the midterm elections, the purge was "the precursor of a historic transformation of American political parties" that "colors American Politics to this day." As the past prepares to repeat itself once more, FDR in '38 is a perfect lens through which to view our current climate.
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Review

In 1938, when FDR tried to 'purge' conservative members of Congress who were running for reelection, he also hoped to transform the Democratic Party into a more progressive force for change. Dunn's beautifully written, deeply researched book shows how and why he failed to do so. Her history of this pivotal failure has lessons for those in our own time who might wish to do the same. (James. T. Patterson, author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974)

How the most masterful presidential politician of the last century badly miscalculated in his bid to impose discipline on his party makes for a richly detailed and riveting narrative in Dunn's superb new book. Hers is a resonant tale for today--a sharp reminder of the ideological and regional barriers confronting any president who harbors the ambition to transform American politics. (Bruce Miroff, author of The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party)

Dunn portrays one of the most dramatic episodes in the development of the American party system. FDR's assault on conservative Democrats in the midterm elections initiated changes that would eventually transform the Democratic Party--and American politics. This engagingly written book is must reading for those who wish to probe the deep roots of contemporary partisan rancor. (Sidney M. Milkis, author of The President and the Parties)

In the most authoritative, absorbing, and deeply researched account we now have of Roosevelt's intriguing and little-understood battle to remake the Democrats into a more consistently ideological party, Dunn shows how a master politician sought to break the deadlocks of his own time, suggesting many lessons that deserve our urgent attention today. (Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage and The Conquerors)

Dunn delves into a fascinating and overlooked aspect of the FDR presidency: Roosevelt's brazen effort to assert control over his own party in the summer of 1938. Dunn has written an engaging story of bare-knuckled political treachery that pits a president at the peak of his popularity against entrenched congressional leaders who didn't like where he was taking the country and their party. FDR tried to use the power of the White House, and his personality, to run his opponents out of the Democratic Party. He failed miserably. (Jonathan Karl Wall Street Journal 2010-10-13)

Dunn's examination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's summer of '38, when he attempted to rid his party of conservative elements, couldn't be more relevant. The author colorfully and thoroughly chronicles the strategies that a once-popular president, who had helped America rise from a debilitating depression, employed when critics within his own party threatened his New Deal legislation...Roosevelt helped manipulate the outcome of Democratic primaries and supported liberals who challenged the seats of conservative incumbents...Even though FDR's efforts ultimately failed, costing him political capital and bringing a beating upon Democrats in the midterm elections, the purge was "the precursor of a historic transformation of American political parties" that "colors American Politics to this day." As the past prepares to repeat itself once more, FDR in '38 is a perfect lens through which to view our current climate. (Publishers Weekly 2010-10-18)

[An] engrossing book. (Sam Rosenfeld American Prospect 2010-11-08)

Dunn does an excellent job of putting this purge attempt into historical as well as political context, and demonstrates that the method to FDR's madness can be seen in his effort to bring greater ideological consistency not only to the Democratic Party, but to the two-party system as well...Dunn's book is clearly argued and well written, and gives a glimpse of the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the Roosevelt mind. It sheds light on not only presidency studies but also the FDR era. (M. A. Genovese Choice 2011-05-01)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Marc Korman on November 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
FDR managed to win a never to be matched four presidential terms, passed far reaching New Deal legislation and programs including the Fair Labor Standards Act, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Social Security, and help lead the nation to victory in World War II. What he could not do is defeat some incumbent Senators in his own party's primaries in 1938 despite his personal efforts.

Roosevelt's Purge tells the story of FDR's frustration with several conservative Democratic Senators and one conservative House member in states such as Georgia (Home of Walter George), South Carolina (the state that sent Cotton Ed Smith to the Senate), and Maryland (where Senator Millard Tydings was from). In the summer of 1938, FDR traveled the country to support the opponents' of these men (and a few others) and bolster a few incumbents he did support. When the dust settled, most of those FDR sought to defeat remained in office, with the one exception being conservative New Yorker John O'Connor.

Dunn not only tells the story of why FDR was frustrated and his travels, but also some of the broader context it fell into. The Democratic Party coalition was held together for many years past its expiration date due to personalities, as the unhappy alliance between Northern urban liberals and conservative, segregationist southerns came undone. Dunn posits that FDR actually sought a quicker divorce, allowing for two ideologically distinct parties as we currently have. Although FDR did argue for this, it seems he was really expressing personal anger at those who crossed him. Dunn also presents the interesting result that many of FDR's stalwart allies during the economic New Deal were far more isolationist at least in the early going of World War II.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Carlos on August 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When FDR set out in 1938 to "purge" the Democratic Party of conservative senators and congressmen who were allying themselves with Republicans to block more New Deal legislation and reforms, his goal was not just personal pique at his political foes but also a vision of a different party system, one that gave voters a clear choice between the two parties at election time and one in which each party was united around core political principles. "An election," FDR said, "cannot give the country a firm sense of direction if it has two or more national parties which merely have different names but are as alike in their principles and aims as peas in the same pod." Roosevelt spent the summer of 1938 zigzagging around the country and speaking out at rallies for liberal candidates who were challenging conservative incumbents. The purge ultimately failed, and it would take six more decades for the parties to realign. And yet, as Dunn's totally engaging and suspenseful book makes clear, it was an exhilarating failure. One of the best political books I've read in years -- brilliant political analysis and a great story about one of our greatest presidents!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on August 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
American presidents fortunate enough to enjoy two terms invariably find their second term more difficult than their first one, but if there was a president who could have bucked the trend it was Franklin Roosevelt. Enjoying one of the most massive reelection victories in history, he could claim a clear mandate from the voters, one reflected not just in his own overwhelming numbers but the enormous majorities enjoyed by the Democratic Party in both houses of Congress. Yet despite this Roosevelt was unable to accomplish anything approaching his triumphs in his first term, when he was able to pass through Congress legislation that transformed the nation. Instead Roosevelt squandered his political capital in ill-advised confrontations that diminished his standing and eroded his support. Though the first of these battles, over the Supreme Court "packing plan", is well known, far less so is his subsequent effort to purge conservative Democrats from office during the 1938 midterm election. Susan Dunn's book is a history of this effort, providing an examination of its origins, its consequences, and its subsequent impact on national politics.

Dunn argues that the origins of the purge lay in Roosevelt's desire to reshape the American political landscape. In the early twentieth century, American political parties were mainly coalitions of regional political groupings, often ideologically disparate. Roosevelt aimed to change that by forcing the conservatives out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican one. His immediate motivation, however, lay in his frustration with the failure of his legislative agenda in Congress.
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By U on August 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Even though Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide victory in 1936, not only was the Supreme Court and checks and balances preventing him from continuing to make transformational changes, but he also confronted the problem of a serious conservative bloc in his own party. In 1937 and 1938, conservative Democrats were joining Republicans to prevent more New Deal programs. Susan Dunn describes how and why FDR's attempt to "purge" the Democratic Party of those conservative Democrats failed -- but that "purge" was nevertheless the precursor of the realignment of American political parties. In the aftermath of the purge, the momentum for the kind of party realignment that Roosevelt had tried for in 1938 would gather steam, first with the "Dixiecrat" rebellion of conservative southern Democrats in 1948 and then with LBJ's civil rights legislation and the exit of Southern Democrats from the Democratic Party and finally with the so-called "Southern strategies" of Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan and their appeals to conservative Democrats to join the GOP. For me, this was a colorful story about FDR's political wheeling and dealing, an episode that frankly I had never heard of. And the book also contains very insightful and up-to-date political analysis.
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