Orville H. Browning (Mr. Lincoln’s White House)
Orville H. Browning (Mr. Lincoln & Friends)
Leaders need friends. Sometimes those friends are not the ones that their other friends would have chosen for them. For Abraham Lincoln, attorneys Mark W. Delahay and Ward Hill Lamon fell into that controversial category. So did Orville H. Browning, a long-time Illinois associate who thought himself superior to Lincoln. For Winston Churchill, Professor Frederick Lindemann, a distinguished but opinionated German-born scientist, fell into that category. Historian Max Hastings wrote that physicist Lindemann “was the most widely disliked of Churchill’s intimates. His cleverness was not in doubt, but his intellectual arrogance and taste for vendettas bred many enemies. Fifty-five in 1941, Cherwell had inherited a fortune gained from waterworks in Germany. He enjoyed flaunting his wealth before less fortunate scientific colleagues, often arriving for Oxford meetings in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. His habit of crossing roads looking straight ahead, indifferent to oncoming traffic, reflecting his approach to issues of state and war. A bachelor and vegetarian, of strongly right-wing and indeed racist convictions, he was an unself-conscious eccentric.”1
So did Max Aitken – Lord Beaverbrook by 1917 – and fellow newspaper mogul Brendan Bracken. Sometimes these folks worked together as they did in 1862 when Kansas attorney Delahay recommended Browning for Lincoln’s cabinet.2 By contrast with Beaverbrook and Bracken, Orville Browning was a very sober, serious man never noted for any inappropriate behavior. Beaverbrook and Bracken, in contrast, were noted for their outrageous words and actions – which alienated them from Clementine Churchill much as Browning’s sobriety endeared him to Mary Lincoln. The role of disreputable Lincoln friend was sometimes played by Lamon or Delahay, but never Browning, who was the essence of Presbyterian solidity. Browning stuffiness was reflected in a diary entry in December 1862: “Just after I returned the President sent an invitation for me to dine with him at 5 P.M. I do not think Sunday an appropriate time for dinner parties, and supposed the President wished to see me privately, and hence had sent for me; but I found Senator [Ira] Harris of N.Y. , Judge [David] Davis of the Supreme Court, Hon. I.N. Arnold of Illinois, and the two private secretaries [John G.] Nicolay & [John] Hay present beside myself. In a company thus composed there could be no conversation except of the most general character, and I left between 7 & 8 oclock.”3
Abraham Lincoln and Orville H. Browning were friends and colleagues for three decades – first in the state legislature, later in law and politics. Historian Matthew Pinsker observed: “Square-jawed, with an unruly mat of short hair and piercing eyes, Browning’s almost Roman aura offered a striking contrast to Lincoln’s earthy demeanor and gangly appearance. Like the president, however, Browning was a self-made man, also born in Kentucky and also devoted to politics and law. Back in Illinois, Lincoln and Browning had been colleagues on friendly terms but did not regard each other as intimate friends.”4 (Browning’s wife, however, was someone that the young awkward attorney fellow comfortable with in the late 1830s.) Historian David H. Donald observed: “It would have been hard to find two men who seemed more dissimilar. Self-educated, Lincoln came from hardscrabble beginnings, while Browning, son of a well-to-do Kentucky merchant and planter, had enjoyed a privileged childhood and attended college.”5 Biographer Maurice Baxter noted: “For thirty years Browning and Lincoln were friends, fellow lawyers, and political colleagues, whose thoughts and interests were frequently similar. Notwithstanding the obvious differences in personality, such as Browning’s inclination towards self-righteousness and Lincoln’s humility, a good many likenesses exist: their Kentucky background, their early experience as circuit lawyers and state legislators in Illinois, their Whig-Republican political affiliations, and their common concern – above and beyond a moral dislike of slavery – about the continuity of the Union challenged by secession.”6 The patrician and pious Browning lacked President Lincoln’s wry sense of humor and his easy way with people. Henry Clay Whitney wrote: “At the Bloomington convention in the 1856 he introduced the polite and courtly Browning to the unpolished and irreverent [Chicago editor and politician John] Wentworth. They had never met. ‘I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I have heard much of you,’ began the facile Browning. ‘Damned much against me,’ ejaculated Wentworth. It struck Lincoln as being very comical. I heard him repeat it a dozen times that day.”7
Historian Donald noted: “In 1850s, when both Lincoln and Browning dropped out of the state legislature, they remained in touch. In legal cases they were sometimes colleagues and just as often opponents, and they recognized each other’s ability.”8 Still, in the late 1850s, Lincoln seemed to grow apart from Browning – especially in Lincoln’s 1858 and 1860 contests against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. Browning’s jealousy of Lincoln could occasionally be painfully obvious. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: “Only four days before the state convention nominated Lincoln [for the U.S. Senate], Browning allowed his own name to go forward from the McDonough County Republican convention for ‘the place now filled by S. A. Douglas in the Senate.’ This yielded Browning nothing; and perhaps for that very reason, he made no appearances for Lincoln during the campaign. Douglas’s chief lieutenant, William Richardson, happily confirmed that Browning ‘will not labor very hard to help Lincoln to a vote’; Browning even took a pass on serving with the arrangements committee that was to welcome Lincoln to Browning’s hometown of Quincy.” Guelzo wrote: “Although Browning was an old friend of Lincoln’s, and had joined Lincoln in moving to the Republicans in 1856, his name appeared nowhere on the Quincy arrangements committee for Lincoln when it met on October 5 . Although he agreed to lend his home in Quincy as a temporary headquarters for Lincoln during the debate, Browning somehow contrived to be out of town, ‘attending court,’ on the day of the event.”9
When Lincoln’s friends joined together en masse in 1860 to promote Lincoln for president, Browning instead supported Missouri’s Edward Bates. Historian David H. Donald maintained that Browning filled a key void in President Lincoln’s life. Donald wrote: “Possibly Browning was jealous of Lincoln, but, more probably, intent on his own role in his own role in the Republican party, he could not take seriously the political aspirations of his old friend.”10 Still, Lincoln insisted on making Browning an Illinois delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May. In speaking to a joint caucus of Pennsylvania and Indiana delegations at the Chicago Republican convention Browning closed with “a most beautiful and eloquent eulogy on Lincoln, which electrified the meeting,” wrote James. G. Randall.11 Biographer Maurice Baxter wrote: “Even after the presidential nomination had been made, Browning thought that Bates would have been a better choice. He had no doubt that the Missourian would have drawn more votes than Lincoln.”12 Nevertheless, Lincoln used Browning’s political persuasion for his own interest. The candidate sent Browning to St. Louis in late May to solicit Bates’ endorsement for Mr. Lincoln. Bates agreed but took three weeks to fulfil his promise in a letter to Browning.
In June 1860, Browning wrote in his diary: “After breakfast called to see Hon. Abm. Lincoln, at his room in the State House – He was very glad to see me, and received me with great cordiality. I found Mr[.] Hicks, an artist of New York, painting a portrait to be lithographed in Boston, and at the request of himself and Mr[.] Lincoln, I remained and talked to Lincoln whilst Mr[.] Hicks worked upon the picture…Lincoln bears his honors meekly. As soon as other company had retired after I went in he fell into his old habit of telling amusing stories, and we had a free and easy talk of an hour or two.”13 Browning continued to act as an agent for Bates as the election approached and a Bates friend solicited a Cabinet position for Bates. In two letters to President-elect Lincoln, Browning pressed him to appoint Bates as secretary of state. Shortly after the election, Browning wrote Lincoln: “It is with very great reluctance that I intrude upon your notice, or occupy one moment of your time at present. I write only to send the enclosed letter, which, if you have time, and disposition you can read, and give to it such consideration as you may think it deserves. No doubt Mr Bates is the person alluded to in the letter as suitable for the position mentioned….It can hardly be necessary for me to express my great gratification at the glorious victory we have won, and to invoke the best blessings of Heaven on your administration.”14 Browning was a frequent correspondent in the months after Mr. Lincoln left Springfield and before Senator Browning himself arrived in Washington in July to succeed the late Senator Stephen A. Douglas (who had defeated Browning for Congress in the early 1840s). Browning’s relationship with Lincoln was conflicted. Maurice Baxter wrote: “It seems almost intentional that by 1860 he made so little mention in his diary of Lincoln’s rise to power, and there are indications that Browning, who doubtless thought that he was more capable and more deserving of honor than the ‘Railsplitter,’ was jealous.”15
Curiously, Browning began the Civil War as a radical who believed that the secessionists should be dealt with harshly. After meeting with President Lincoln on July 8, Browning wrote in his diary: “He is for the most vigorous and active measures to bring the war to a speedy close, and totally opposed to any compromise of any kind or character. We also discussed the negro question, and agreed upon this as upon other things that the government neither should, nor would send back to bondage such as came to our armies, but that we could not have them in camp, and that they must take care of themselves til the war is over, and then, colonize &c.”16 He wrote President Lincoln with a radical proposal – particularly radical for the normally conservative Browning: “There is one thing, and one thing only that we can do, and that, in my judgment, is what ought to be, and will be done. Give up the cotton states to them [the Negroes]. Let them have the soil upon which they were born – the climate which is congenial, the agriculture to which they are adapted, and which they understand. Let such whites as remain there at the time get away with all they can carry with them. They cant take away the soil. Give that up to the negroes, and form them into a Republic under the protectorate of this Government. No other course, it seems to me, is open to us. This done our troubles are at an end, and our government planted on the rock of ages.”17 After President Lincoln reversed General John Fremont’s order, Browning wrote Lincoln: “It is in no spirit of fault finding that I say I greatly regret the order modifying Genl Fremont’s proclamation.
That proclamation had the unqualified approval of every true friend of the Government within my knowledge. I do not know of an exception. Rebels and traitors, and all who sympathize with rebellion and treason, and who wish to see the government overthrown, would, of course, denounce it. Its influence was most salutary, and it was accomplishing much good. Its revocation disheartens our friends, and represses their ardor.
It is true there is no express, written law authorizing it; but war is never carried on, and can never be, in strict accordance with previously adjusted constitutional and legal provisions. Have traitors who are warring upon the constitution and laws, and rejecting all their restraints, any right to invoke their protection?
Biographer Baxter wrote: “Browning remained unconvinced by the President’s arguments. He replied on September 30 with a weighty statement about the nature of the war and its relationship to Frémont’s proclamations. He believed that the law of nations furnished sufficient authority to use every advantage to weaken the enemy.”18 Less than a week later, Lincoln responded: “Yours of the 17th is just received; and, coming from you, I confess it astonishes me. That you should object to my adhering to a law which you had assisted in making and presenting to me less than a month before, is odd enough. But this is a very small part. Gen. Fremont’s proclamation as to confiscation of property, and the liberation of slaves, is purely political, and not within the range of military law, or necessity. If a commanding General finds a necessity to seize the farm of a private owner, for a pasture, an encampment, or a fortification, he has the right to do so, and to so hold it, as long as the necessity lasts; and this is within military law, because within military necessity. But to say the farm shall no longer belong to the owner, or his heirs, forever; and this as well when the farm is not needed for military purposes, as when it is, is purely political; without the savor of military law about it. And the same is true of slaves. If the General needs them he can seize them, and use them; but when the need is past, it is not for him to fix their permanent future condition. That must be settled according to laws made by lawmakers, and not by military proclamations. The proclamation, in the point in question, is simply ‘dictatorship.’ It assumes that the General may do anything he pleases – confiscate the lands and free the slaves of loyal people, as well as of disloyal ones. And going the whole figure, I have no doubt would be more popular with some thoughtless people, than what he has that which has been done! But I cannot assume this reckless position; nor allow others to assume it on my responsibility. You speak of it as being the only means of saving the government. On the contrary, it is itself the surrender of the government. Can it be pretended that it is any longer the government of the U. S. – any government of constitution and laws, – wherein a General, or a President, may make permanent rules of property by proclamation?”19
Despite their long friendship, there was always a bit of jealousy and competition between Browning and Lincoln. Browning was stuffier, more conventional, more proper, and more dignified than his long-time friend. He was also, as biographer Baxter observed, more conceited.20 He was ambitious without wanting to do the hard political networking that Lincoln was willing to do. Baxter noted: “The one honor, above all others, which Browning desired was an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. In the spring of 1861 he made serious application for one of the two places then vacant. As early as January a petition to Lincoln signed by Samuel C. Pomeroy, James H. Lane, and M. F. Conway begged that Browning be selected for the Court. On April 8, his friend, Henry Asbury of Quincy, wrote Attorney General Bates with a request that Browning’s personal inclinations and qualifications be recognized by naming him to the Supreme Court.”21 On April 9, 1861, Browning wrote Lincoln: “Since the announcement of the death of Judge [John] McLean very many of my friends in this part of the State have asked permission to present my name for appointment as his successor. I have refused to permit petitions to be gotten up and circulated, thinking it incompatible with the dignity of the office, and the dignity of character which ought to be maintained by any one fitted to fill it, that it should be sought in that manner.” Browning probably realized that Lincoln owed more to Jude David Davis who had played a more active more in Lincoln’s nomination and had more supporters among Lincoln’s old colleagues in the Eighth Judicial District in Illinois. Browning wrote:
Upon mature consideration of the subject I have concluded to write you frankly, and candidly to express to you my wishes, and there leave the matter to be disposed of as, you, may seem right and proper.
It is not without a great deal of embarrassment and hesitation that I have determined upon this course, but, having determined upon it, I do not propose to offer any apologies for addressing myself to the task. You know me about as well as I know myself; and in regard to my fitness for the office you know me better – for you occupy a far better stand point for the formation of a fair and impartial judgment than I do. If, then, you shall think me competent to the duties of the office, and shall be at all inclined to gratify me in any thing, I say frankly, and without any sort of disguise, or affectation, that there is nothing in your power to do for me which would gratify me so much as this. It is an office peculiarly adapted to my tastes, and the faithful and honest performance of the duties of which would be my highest pride and ambition.
For twenty years, and more, I have been fighting the political battles of my party, and my country under circumstances of exceeding difficulty, and without hope, or expectation of reward.
I have very little political ambition, and have not sought high political honors. In the line of my profession I confess to a large ambition — yet I do not think it passes the bounds of what is laudable. I do not think it is inordinate. And this ambition, I say without hesitation, cannot be so gratified in any other way as by the success of the application I now make.
Heretofore I have neither asked, nor received, and whether this is granted or not I shall not ask again.22
Two months later, Browning’s wife herself wrote the President Lincoln on her husband’s behalf. Browning was a frequent visitor to the White House – even after he was defeated for reelection to the Senate. President Lincoln’s literary obsessions were probably more appreciated by Browning than by some members of Lincoln’s own Cabinet. Baxter wrote: “The firmest ties in the Lincoln-Browning relationship were human and personal. After extended discussions about the progress of the war, Lincoln would often pick up a book of poetry and read to his friend or tell a joke in his expert manner. The ready access that Browning had to his office, when swarms of people waited or were turned away, underlined the importance that Lincoln attached to their friendship.”23 Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted: “When he found that Orville Hickman Browning had never read Hood’s ‘The Haunted House,’ Lincoln ‘rang his bell — sent for Hood’s poems and read the whole of it to me, pausing occasionally to comment on passages which struck him as particularly felicitous.’”24
“Lincoln was obviously delighted to have the Brownings in Washington, old friends whom he could absolutely trust,” wrote historian David H. Donald. “He knew that the Illinois senator would never betray a confidence, never leak information to his colleagues or to the press, never even hint that he had inside information.25 The summer session of Congress in 1861 was brief, but noted Lincoln historian Matthew Pinsker, “they reconnected in Washington during the winter of 1861-1862. Only in that season of private grief and national tragedy did Lincoln and Browning draw closer together.”26 Browning was one of the rare Illinois politicians whom Mary Lincoln liked. Even more rare, Mary liked his wife Eliza. Donald wrote: “Mary Lincoln admired this handsome, well-bred Kentucky gentleman with such excellent manners. He was one of the few guests she ever invited to dinner in her cramped little house on Jackson Street. She also liked Eliza Browning, who was not so beautiful or flirtatious as to pose a threat. Perhaps the two women found a bond in having both lost a child: in April 1843, the Brownings’ only child was stillborn, and the Lincoln’s sickly second son, Edward Baker, died in 1850, when he was not quite four years old.”27 Despite their political differences, Lincoln clearly trusted Browning with his political and personal thoughts. Historian Cara L. Shelly noted that “Mary encouraged Browning’s frequent social calls, hoping that they relieved some of the pressure on her husband.”28 In December 1862, Browning wrote in his diary: “December 14: “Mrs Lincoln sent her carriage this morning for me to go to Church with her which I did. The President did not go. After Church she rode with me to Capitol Hill. On our way down she told me the President was anxious to get Secretary Smith out of the Cabinet, and me in his place. That he was anxious to have Mrs Browning and myself in Washington, and the only thing that would prevent him offering me the place would be the fear of having it said he was giving everything to Illinois, but she thought he would do it — She knew he wished to.29
Browning was sufficiently close to the Lincoln family that he could help supervise arrangements for the funeral of Willie Lincoln in February 1862. But he soon crossed Mrs. Lincoln. Lincoln scholar Daniel Mark Epstein wrote: “One week after Willie’s funeral, [doorkeeper] Thomas Stackpole, the doorkeeper, informed Senator Browning of Mrs. Lincoln’s collusion with gardener [John] Watt to defraud the treasury, and that she had stolen the president’s speech ‘of Defrees, Superintendent of Government Printing, and she gave it to [Chevalier] Wykoff in the Library, where he read it, gave it back to Defrees.’ ( Stackpole wanted Watt fired so that he could take over the graft. Browning felt the responsibility to tell the president this; and because of his ‘distressingly loving’ (Mrs. Lincoln’s phrase) interference, and Lincoln’s subsequent banishing of Watt and Wikoff, Mrs. Lincoln remained angry with Orville Browning for some time.”30 “Stealing was a sort of insanity with her,” Judge David Davis told Browning in 1873 when Browning argued that “all the charges against her of having pilfered from the White House were false.”31 Browning was one of the few Lincoln friends who understood the grief that Mary Lincoln sometimes caused her husband or whom the president could talk about her frankly.
In July 1862, Browning wrote in his diary: “At the Presidents this morning — He was in his Library writing, with directions to deny him to every body. I went in a moment. He looked weary, care-worn and troubled. I shook hands with him, and asked how he was. He said ‘tolerably well’ I remarked that I felt concerned about him — regretted that troubles crowded so heavily upon him, and feared his health was suffering. He held me by the hand, pressed it, and said in a very tender and touching tone — ‘Browning I must die sometime’, I replied ‘your fortunes Mr President are bound up with those of the Country, and disaster to one would be disaster to the other, and I hope you will do all you can to preserve your health and life’. He looked very sad, and there was a cadence of deep sadness in his voice. We parted I believe both of us with tears in our eyes.”32
Historian Matthew Pinsker wrote: “On Wednesday, June 18  he sent a carriage to the local residence of Senator Orville H. Browning, an old friend from Lincoln’s days as a lawyer and state legislator, had been appointed to fill the unexpired term of Stephen A. Douglas upon the latter’s death in mid-1861. The new senator decided to bring along some important government contractors for this unexpected private meeting with the president. Before heading out to the country, he stopped at Willard’s Hotel and convinced New York retail giant Alexander T. Stewart and his close friend Judge Henry Hilton to join him.”33 In July 1862, Browning told Mr. Lincoln that “your fortunes Mr. President are bound up with those of the Country, and disaster to one would be disaster to the other, and I hope you will do all you can to preserve your health and life.”34 But Browning split with Lincoln on the issue of emancipation, which he believed cost him reelection to the Senate that November. Historian David Donald wrote: “On his return to Washington in November, Browning frankly told Lincoln of his disappointment with his conduct. The masses of the Democratic party had been behind the President, he said, until he issued his ‘disasterous [sic]’ proclamations. They ‘had revived old party issues – given them a rallying cry’ – and the result was Republican defeat. ‘To this,’ Browning noted tersely in his diary, ‘he made no reply.’” Donald added: “After that, Browning felt so alienated that he could not bring himself to discuss these matters further with the President. Their frank talks on public affairs ended.”35
Browning became one of the more conservative senators in the Republican Senate caucus during 1862. He was still a member of the Senate in December 1862 when on December 16 after the disastrous Union defeat at Fredericksburg, Senate Republicans sought a reorganization of the Lincoln Cabinet. The first night, Browning wrote in his diary: “These ultra, radical, unreasoning men who raised the insane cry of on to Richmond in July 1861, and have kept up a war on our generals ever since — who forced the confiscation bills, and extorted from the President the proclamations and lost him the confidence of the country are now his bitterest enemies, and doing all in their power to break down. They fear the indignation of the people will break in fury upon their own heads, as it should, and they are intent upon giving it another direction.”36 In the caucus, Browning said: “I knew there was no more honest, upright, conscientious man than the President, and that I knew him to be in favour of the most vigorous prosecution of the war, and that he intended to prosecute until every state was restored to the Union, and every rebel compelled to submit to the authority of the government”37
Two days later, Browning went to the White House and shared a few brief but insightful minutes with President Lincoln: “Said he ‘What do these men want?’ I answered ‘I hardly know Mr President, but they are exceedingly violent towards the administration, and what we did yesterday was the gentlest thing that could be done. We had to do that or worse.’ Said he ‘They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them.’ I replied ‘Some of them do wish to get rid of you, but the fortunes of the Country are bound up with your fortunes, and you stand firmly at your post and hold the helm with a steady hand — To relinquish it now would bring upon us certain and inevitable ruin.’ Said he ‘We are now on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope.’ I answered ‘be firm and we will yet save the Country. Do not be driven from your post. You ought to have crushed the ultra, impracticable men last summer. You could then have done it, and escaped these troubles. But we will not talk of the past. Let us be hopeful and take care of the future. Mr Seward appears now to be the especial object of their hostility. Still I believe he has managed our foreign affairs as any one could have done. Yet they are very bitter upon him, and some of them very bitter upon you.’ He then said ‘Why will men believe a lie, an absurd lie, that could not impose upon a child, and cling to it and repeat it in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.’ I understood this to refer to the charges against Mr Seward.”38
After his defeat, noted Matthew Pinsker, Browning “remained in Washington as a lobbyist but never again enjoyed the regular social intercourse with the president that he had during the previous year. Lincoln avoided him on January 1, the day of the proclamation’s signing, for example, when Browning showed up at the White House to share an afternoon carriage ride out to the Soldiers’ Home.”39 Still, ex-Senator Browning often seemed to presume on their friendship in bringing visitors to meet the president. Historian Philip Van Doren Stern wrote: “Browning’s characteristic day in Washington began with his making the rounds of the various departments that might be useful to his clients. He also did a good business in defending Confederates and people charged with being disloyal. He had been openly against the administration’s efforts to emancipate the slaves, and he differed with Lincoln on many other political principles, but long acquaintance always enabled him to reach the President.”40
Browning biographer Maurice Baxter argued that although disappointed in the President, his “loyalty [to the Union cause] did not waver. Although he disagreed with other politicians about the details of conducting the war, he continued to urge an all-out effort to defeat the Confederacy….In a letter to Lincoln on July 1, 1863, he did not conceal the gloom which he felt; yet he sought to encourage the president by professing his faith in the ultimate triumph of the Union cause.”41 Browning’s fealty to Lincoln, however, was questionable – especially in the election of 1864. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: “One of Browning’s neighbors, Jackson Grimshaw, warned that Browning was planning ‘to build up a great ‘third party’ in Illinois as an alternative, and Joseph Medill accused Browning of defecting to ‘the secesh of Illinois.’”42
“He refused to come out definitely in favor of either nominee, because, he said, he had not talked as a politician since the beginning of hostilities at Sumter,” wrote biographer Maurice Baxter. “Browning was indeed in doubt as to which candidate was preferable for the presidency.” He wrote Pennsylvania Senator Edgar Cowan: “You know, strange as it may seem to you, that I am personally attached to the President, and have faithfully tried to uphold him, and make him respectable; tho’ I never been to persuade myself that he was big enough for his position. Still, I thought he might get through, as many a boy through college, without disgrace, and without knowledge; and I fear he is a failure.”43
In contrast with Browning, Bracken and Beaverbrook were considerably more outrageous. Historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote that Beaverbrook was a “financier, politician, newspaper proprietor, statesman and historian, as well as being a character.”44 Churchill aide John Colville concluded that Beaverbrook “was capable of irresponsible, indeed discreditable, acts. Yet in 1940 the war might have been lost without Beaverbrook, and, despite all his acts of mischief, British politics gained something from the mixture of salt and vinegar in which he soused them. And he revolutionised British journalism.” Beaverbrook was an agent provocateur at a time when more serious leadership was called for. Colville observed: “Beaverbrook enjoyed the thrill of the chase, but was not much interested in the kill. He was an engaging companion, a generous friend and sometimes sincerely dedicated to a worthwhile cause. His failing, and his danger, was that if some political stunt or personal vendetta amused him, he would pursue it with all his energy and give little or no thought to the aftermath.” Colville contrasted Beaverbrook with Bracken, who took Colville back to London after the weekend. In the Second World War, Bracken undertook the portfolio that Beaverbrook had held during the First World War, minister of information. Colville noted that “he talked the whole way up to London in an absolutely sane and sensible way.”45 Colville wrote: “In the years immediately before the war, and during the war itself, he was a bright comet sweeping across the skies, afraid of nobody, jolting Churchill out of melancholy or intemperate moods, and proving a strikingly successful Minister of Information, in contrast to his three predecessors in the post. Yet he was a lonely man, disguising the fact with incessant and, latterly, repetitive conversation, but genuinely loved by all who dug beneath the physically unattractive façade.”46
Churchill secretary Elizabeth Nel wrote that “tall, red-haired, bespectacled Mr. Bracken…would always be on tap until late at night in case called for by the Prime Minister.”47 Bracken was ever-loyal to Churchill and ably served as minister of information for most of the war. Churchill aide John Colville wrote: “Cheerful though he nearly always seemed to be, he was a realist and there were two faces he could show. When the clouds were dark with menace, he was not oblivious of the fact…” However, “[w]ith Churchill he was invariably in high spirits, bursting with optimism and discounting bad news or depressing forecasts. Indeed there was nobody better able to dispel prime-ministerial gloom and induce good temper.” Along with Lord Beaverbrook, however, he often tried to undermine Labour members of the Cabinet, and thus gained the enmity of both civilian and military leaders who resented his advice.48 In his diary Ministry of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton described frequent run-ins with Bracken. Writing in October 1941, Hugh Dalton complained about his ongoing feud with Bracken: “What a fool and a nuisance this man is!” In February 1942, he added: “Bracken back towards his old form – reckless rudeness. He is as Gladwyn says, simply a guttersnipe.”49 But Bracken was loyal to Churchill when Beaverbrook was mercurial. In 1938 when Beaverbrook cut Churchill off from the columnist job that Churchill desperately needed financially, Bracken came to Churchill’s rescue by introducing him to Sir Henry Strakosch, who bought Churchill’s American stocks at their original purchase price and paid him interest to boot. Without that help, Churchill would have been forced to sell his beloved home at Chartwell. Moreover, noted historian A.J.P. Taylor, during those years, “Bracken was almost Churchill’s only supporter in the house of commons and a relentless opponent of appeasement.”50
The Irish-born Bracken did not have the best reputation for veracity. Historian Ben Pimlott wrote of Bracken’s thick red hair: “It was said of Bracken that everything about him was phoney: even his hair, which looked like a wig, wasn’t.” Pimlott wrote: “No Conservative Member of Parliament ever came from a more un-Conservative background,” having “clawed his way up to become part of the world of aristocracy and wealth…Deserting humbler Fenian origins and renouncing his Catholic faith, Bracken had made his way in the world as an editor, publisher and newspaper proprietor. Meanwhile, as a very young man he had attached himself to Winston Churchill, by whom he stuck through all vicissitudes.” When Churchill returned the Admiralty in September 1939, Bracken became his parliamentary personal secretary.”51 Colville noted that “Bracken delighted in making a secret of his origin which even his close friend, Lord Beaverbrook, failed to unravel….he enjoyed the fictitious rumour that he was Churchill’s illegitimate son. Indeed he was quite capable of having invented it.” Bracken was indefatigable in his attendance on Churchill – all the while, noted Colville, performing the duties of minister of information “for four years with tact and success.” Colville noted that his intrusions were seldom found objectionable by Churchill staff because of “the warmth of his personality, his pretended ruthlessness (which all took pleasure in discovering to be a façade) and his readiness to take endless pains to help others.” Colville observed that until the election campaign of 1945, Bracken “exercised his undoubted influence for the general good rather than for that of the Party or his friends.” Furthermore, Bracken’s knowledge was encyclopedic. “If the name of a man or woman in the official, parliamentary, professional or social world was mentioned, there was no need to refer to a book of reference if Bracken was in hailing distance.” That made invaluable in the process of filling vacancies and making appointments.52
That knowledge was also very helpful when Harry Hopkins was dispatched by President Franklin Roosevelt to visit Britain in January 1941. John Colville wrote: “Few people in England knew much about this man of power in the White House…but of course Brendan Bracken was familiar with his whole history and background. Bracken was characteristically mysterious, assuring Churchill that this was the most important visitor to Britain since the outbreak of war, disregarding any interest the American Embassy or the Foreign Office might have in the arrival or movements of Hopkins and setting off in his own car to meet him at Portsmouth. He delivered him straight to 10 Downing Street and persuaded Churchill to lunch with him alone. The lunch went precisely as Bracken had hoped.” A weekend at Ditchley Park sealed their relationship.53
Beaverbrook and Bracken apparently had played a vital but behind-the-scenes role in arranging for Churchill to succeed Prime Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. Churchill’s commitment to serve in any role in a war government boxed him into potentially serving under Lord Halifax, then foreign secretary, as Chamberlain’s replacement. MP Edward Spears reported: “Churchill, according to what I was told, said he would be perfectly prepared to serve under Halifax. Thereupon Bracken, who did his country a good turn that evening – he was to do many more, pointed out the folly of such a step. For one thing, how could a Government in war be led from the Lords? Churchill would have to lead the Commons, carry the burden: how could he accept such responsibilities without full powers?”54 Bracken told Churchill’s physician his version of events: “Early in the evening of May 9, 1940, word reached Brendan that Winston had come to an agreement with Lord Halifax that he would act as his second in command if Halifax became Prime Minister. Brendan thought this would be disastrous, that if it were carried out we should lose the war. He went about London searching for Winston. At one o’clock in the morning he found him. ‘You cannot agree to this,’ Brendan spluttered, but Winston was obdurate; he said that he could not go back on his word. ‘Well,’ Brendan persisted, ‘at least you must promise you will not speak first when you get to No. 10 Promise?’ At last Winston said he would promise. Brendan went to bed mollified.”55 Despite Bracken’s dubious reputation for truth, his account meshes with Churchill’s own account of his pregnant silence the next morning, but then Churchill’s own version has been challenged by other contemporary accounts.56
Historian A.F.J. Taylor added that at the same time “Beaverbrook returned to his old trade of kingmaker. Wiser than Chamberlain and the old gang, he realized that Churchill was the only saviour, even for Conservatives….New urgings came from Brendan Bracken, Churchill’s most stalwart support in the lean years. He brought tidings: he had learnt from Attlee that, though Labour [leaders] preferred Halifax, they would not refuse to serve under Churchill. Reluctantly, Churchill agreed that, if asked to serve under Halifax, he would make no reply.”57 As biographer A.F. P. Taylor would observed “There was nothing Beaverbrook liked better in politics than moving men about from one office to another or in speculating how to do it.”58
Among the London elite, Beaverbrook was more widely demonized than Bracken. He and Churchill had a long association. Historian A. J. P. Taylor noted that Beaverbrook and Churchill had “often differed – on issues such as the future of Ireland., intervention in Russia, and a return to the gold standard.” Taylor observed that “”Many of the policies which Beaverbrook advocated appear in retrospect startlingly sensible.”59 But to historian Max Hastings, Beaverbrook was “wilful and intrusive. Whether in or out of office, he occupied an astonishing amount of the prime minister’s time and attention. Churchill never appeared to notice Beaverbrook’s physical cowardice, unusual in any member of his circle, and widely remarked by colleagues during the blitz, when as often as possible he retired to the country, and on long wartime journeys abroad.”60 To much of elite Britain, Beaverbrook appeared startlingly insensitive. In October 1942 Violent Bonham Carter wrote in her diary of dining with a Churchill administration official who described Beaverbrook as “entirely evil.”61 Indeed, as Colville observed, “Many people thought he was evil. He was, in fact, impish and he was capable of great kindness…..He had a genuine enthusiasm for the British Empire, but he was an arch-appeaser of the dictators. Yet, when he was made Minister of Aircraft Production in May 1940, he performed miracles of production and made a major contribution to winning the Battle of Britain. Later in the war he was markedly unhelpful, upsetting any applecart in sight, becoming infatuated by Stalin and urging a Second Front in totally unsuitable conditions.”62 Unquestionably, Beaverbrook liked the limelight. Labor politician Hugh Dalton described Beaverbrook as “a most curious character, sitting silent for long periods while others talk and then suddenly bursting forth into violent harangues.” A few days later, he described him as “a queer chap.”63 A few months later, Dalton reported: “P.M. said to [Ernest] Bevin the other day that the Beaver was a magician. Bevin replied, ‘Yes, he is an illusionist.’”64
Still, Beaverbrook stimulated the Churchillian blood. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden wrote: “The dynamism of Lord Beaverbrook whether in agreement or contradiction was never dreary, and it meant much to the Prime Minister. Outside the War Cabinet, but also with Mr. Churchill’s closest councils, Brendan Bracken was always at hand, perceptive as well as utterly loyal, courageous in the championship of an unpopular cause or of a man under a cloud.”65 Historian Christopher Catherwood noted that Beaverbrook “through his friendship with most of the key politicians who counted from around 1915 to 1945, was at the very heart of British politics over that crucial thirty-year period. He and Churchill were the only two people to hold high government office in both world wars.”66 It was not easy relationship – for Churchill or for Churchill’s colleagues.
Beaverbrook’s health was a problem – and an excuse. Anthony Eden noted that throughout 1940 that Churchill wanted to Beaverbrook to take charge of war supply, but was thwarted by Beaverbrook’s asthma.67 “Although Churchill and Beaverbrook had been close associates during those [World War I] years, they had since drifted apart and had been diametrically opposed in the late 1930s on the potential threat from Germany. Churchill’s choice was therefore not a case of finding a post for an old crony. His intention seems to have been to harness Beaverbrook’s energy to the war effort and to divert him from any inclination to repeat his political power-brokering activities of the previous war,” noted historian David Day. “As Churchill’s Minister for Aircraft Production, Beaverbrook was making almost manic efforts to produce fighter planes but was increasingly concerned at the numbers of these planes that were being assigned to other theatres, mainly the Middle East. This concern put him more and more at odds with Churchill, who was equally determined to see the Middle East sustained.”68 Beaverbrook thought the planes should be used to help Russia either directly or through the opening of a second war front.
Repeatedly, Beaverbrook resigned or threatened to resign – using health as the generic excuse. On November 3, 1940. John Colville wrote: “A note arrived from Lord Beaverbrook, announcing his resignation because of asthma (actually he is cross with the Air Ministry and piqued because the P.M. has thrown some cold water on his grandiose scheme for making Faraday House the seat and centre of Government – thus upsetting all the Post Office arrangements). The P.M. smiled wryly when I gave him the note, knowing that Lord Beaverbrook resigns every few days; and then he rang him up and said if he did os there would be a public outcry, it would be called desertion, and anyhow why couldn’t he just take a fortnight’s or a month’s holiday.”69 The on-again-off-again nature of Beaverbrook’s governmental services became a persistent theme within Churchill’s government.
Churchill wrote Beaverbrook at the beginning of January 1941: “I want to point out to you that I am placing my entire confidence, and to a large extent the life of the State, upon your shoulders. If, for any reason, this effort should not succeed, or the mechanism which I have devised should be found unwholly suited in your opinion or by the test of events to the business in hand, I have only one resource left, namely to take the burden on my shoulders, and to preside at a daily meeting of the Import Executive. This would not be the best arrangement, as it is bound to distract my thoughts from the military side of our affairs. I mention this to you because I know how earnestly you wish to help me, and there is no way in which you can help me so much as in making a happy solution of our Import, Shipping and Transport problems.”70 Beaverbrook replied:
I am very grateful for your letter and have never been so conscious of your kindly forbearing disposition.
But there is one point on which I think you have given expression to public opinion and not to your own opinion.
I am sure that you do not think I wish to be entrusted with dictatorial powers over ships and transport.
I did not want to join the Government. The place in the Cabinet was undesired and was, indeed, resisted by me. The offer of the Chairmanship of the Production Council was not accepted. I would not take over the Supply Ministry when Morrison went to the Home Office.
I do not want the Chairmanship of this Committee now because the job requires executive decisions which cannot be taken by a committee.71
Beaverbrook worshiped his own independence. In May 1941, Churchill wrote Beaverbrook: “There are two functions in war-time Government. The Executive the Supervisory. The Parliamentary and Press mood stresses very strongly the need for men with no Executive office but a broad, instructed and reflective outlook on the war. It is not possible to combine this with vehement executive action in this or that particular topic or particular Department without destroying the responsibility of the Ministerial chiefs of that Department. The Prime Minister, whoever he may be, is indeed accorded a certain right of incursion and as Minister of Defence I have wide powers. The Service and Departments will take from a Prime Minister what they will not take from anyone else. I am in full agreement with you that the present arrangement is not working well. The alternative therefore is that you should either take an Executive Department while remaining a member of the War Cabinet or reconcile yourself to the higher but more indirect forms of responsibility appropriate to a member of the War Cabinet without Departmental duties.”72
In July 1941,Churchill accompanied Churchill to the Placentia Bay conference and afterwards to Washington to talk to American officials. Taylor wrote that Beaverbrook “had detailed discussions with the Americans in charge of war production. His methods were attuned to theirs, and they responded to his sense of urgency. One of his impulses was particularly noteworthy. Beaverbrook told President Roosevelt that American industry should be immediately stirred up to produce landing craft on a large scale. Here already was his first attempt to translate the Second Front into practical action, and Beaverbrook at any rate cannot be accused of advocating the Second Front without preparing the instruments for it.”73
Beaverbrook did have an ability to impress both Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin – but they only had to deal with him in small doses. But in his dealings with those leaders, Beaverbrook either undermined, tried to undermine or contradicted the British ambassador on the scene. After his Moscow meetings in later 1941, Beaverbrook wrote about a “eight important points of different between Sir Stafford Cripps and me [that] were revealed during the Moscow Conference.”74
Throughout the war, Beaverbrook was a recurring subject of gossip in London. Dalton wrote of a lunch that Beaverbrook had with journalists in June 1941, by then a minister of state: “I am not Deputy Prime Minister. I am not in charge of the home Front. That is supposed to be Attlee’s job. I just help the Prime Minister with anything he wants done.’ Then, said [Haydn] Davies, there was a long pause and a silence lasting at least ten seconds. Then they saw that the Beaver was weeping. And then he said, in a broken voice and wiping the tears from his eyes, ‘I never wanted to leave the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I loved that job. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that I left it of my own free will. I never wanted to be made Minister of State. I wanted to have a Department that would help to win the war.’”75 Unfortunately, few wanted to work with Beaverbrook in that capacity.
Still, Beaverbrook could often be found where the action was. Just as often, he could be found where the agitation was. Beaverbrook’s aggressive and insensitive behavior was a problem. American diplomat Averell Harriman headed a U.S. delegation sent to London in 1941 to see how to help Britain and Russia. “Within two hours of their arrival in London on September 15, Beaverbrook insisted upon calling a meeting of the two delegations in the so-called big room of the War Cabinet. The Americans had scarcely been allowed to wash and change after the long flight. Now, before a roomful of British officers and officials from all the armed services, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Beaverbrook pressed Harriman to declare what quantities of Munitions and raw materials the United States was prepared to offer the Russians.76 In the fall of 1941, he accompanied FDR’s emissary Harriman on an Anglo-American aid mission to Russia. Usually undiplomatic, Beaverbrook managed to work around Stalin’s penchant for secrecy rather than attempt to bludgeon him into greater transparency. “The one way to break down the suspicious attitude which had given rise to Russian secrecy was to make to make clear beyond a doubt the British and American intention to satisfy Russian needs to the utmost in their power, whether the Russians gave anything or not,” Beaverbrook wrote. “It was to be a Christmas-tree party, and there must be no excuse for the Russians thinking they were not getting a fair share of the gifts on the tree.” A. J. P. Taylor maintained that “Beaverbrook won Stalin’s confidence as far as it was possible for any man to do so.”77 Beaverbrook himself became a firm convert for a “second front” in western Europe to help Russia’s efforts in eastern Europe. Beaverbrook, the Tory leader, clashed with the British ambassador, Stafford Cripps, a Labour leader who took a tougher line against Stalin. Taylor noted: “The successful mission to Russia gave Beaverbrook a confidence which he had never possessed before. He really believed that he now enjoyed a popularity which would enable him to become the second man in the kingdom – or perhaps even the first. Here is one of the great riddles in Beaverbrook’s career. Given the needed for an overlord of production, it made sense of Beaverbrook to build up his popularity with the shop-stewards in order to override the opposition from Labour members of the cabinet.”78 Taylor wrote: “All-out aid to Russia would place Beaverbrook again on the high peak of reputation which he had possessed the year before. This time he foresaw also a great political advantage.”79 What is unclear, observed Taylor, is to what extent Beaverbrook fantasized about himself becoming prime minister.
It was hard for Beaverbrook not to see even his successes as fuel for combat with colleagues. Historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote that after his Moscow mission, Beaverbrook “rejoiced in his new-found success as a demagogue. He was delighted at the thought of eclipsing Attlee and Bevin. In his romantic schoolboy way, he saw himself as a leader of the Radical Left, the hero of the masses. This, rather than the office of prime minister, was what he coveted.” However, noted Taylor, Beaverbrook “took up a cause at a moment’s notice and imagined that everyone would switch on the new light as abruptly as he did.” He underestimated the antagonism of laboring Brits to a man like Beaverbrook who bragged of his wealth.80 Churchill’s relationship with Beaverbrook was particularly tempestuous that winter. The prime minister reportedly said: “Some people take drugs; I take Max.”81 Historian Angus Calder wrote: “Churchill not only tolerated his stream of resignations and the bad tempers which he caused in cabinet, he relied heavily on Beaverbrook’s friendship – Attlee remarked later that he ‘took him as a kind of stimulant of drug’.”82
Aboard ship to the United States in December 1941, Beaverbrook was particularly out of sorts. Churchill’s physician reported: “Everyone here takes whatever comes as it comes, save Lord Beaverbrook, whose undisciplined spirit chafes at the confinement. He hates the hours we spend round the table when lunching or dining. The P.M. does the talking, of course, and Max does his best to listen. It is not easy for him; his life has not prepared him for this sort of thing. The people he gathers round him at [his home] Cherkley are not interested in books; the conversation is earthy and full of the frailty of man. Max never seems to tire of the shabby drama of some men’s lives, their infidelities and their passions: that is what he means by good talk. Winston, on the other hand, speaks as he writes. There are brilliant descriptive passages that fall on Max’s ears as prosy stuff, interminably long-winded; he often wonders if it will ever come to an end. Besides, Max does not like to playing second fiddle to anyone. At Cherkley he is king.” Beaverbrook was accustomed – as Churchill was – of being the center and director of any conversation. Dr. Wilson added:
“Winston for his part is too much taken up with his own thoughts to notice Max’s fretting. If Max is particularly argumentative – well, what of it that? It’s is just Max’s way. Moreover, the astute little man is at pains to hide his feelings. If he is restless as he endures this tribulation, at any rate he keeps a close guard on his tongue when the P.M. is present. He knew – no one better – that Winston is his only friend in politics, and he intends to keep that friend, even if it means playing the part of patient listener, a role for which he is not equipped by nature.83
But once in Washington, Beaverbrook displayed his upbeat mastery of war production and in effect challenged the U.S. government to boost its goals. Roosevelt responded. “Beaverbrook, and none other, gave the original inspiration for the flood of American equipment which carried the Grand Alliance to victory,” wrote Taylor. “Churchill was well pleased. He telegraphed to London: ‘Max has been magnificent and Hopkins a godsend’. Burt Churchill was also jealous. While he had been wrangling with the American generals, Beaverbrook had been firing the directors of production with his own enthusiasm and telling them what to do. Moreover Beaverbrook was at home in the Roosevelt court. He was on intimate terms with Hopkins. He laughed and gossiped with Roosevelt as he did with everyone else. Churchill wanted to talk interminably about the war. Roosevelt soon grew bored with this and took Beaverbrook into another room to show off his stamp collection. On one occasion, Churchill summoned Beaverbrook to rejoin him. Beaverbrook replied that the president had ordered him to stay. A row was bound to come.”84 When the argument did come in front of Americans, Beaverbrook characteristically resigned. Churchill just as characteristically refused his resignation.
In mid-January, the two returned to Britain only to begin one of the most intense phases of their relationship in February. Dr. Wilson wrote in his diary at the beginning of the month that Churchill “wants Lord Beaverbrook to organize production. Nothing ‘that dynamic little man’ does – and he is pretty erratic at times – can shake the P.M.’s faith in his genius.”85 There was a clear war, however between Beaverbrook and Labor Minister Ernest Bevin over war production. A. J. P. Taylor wrote: “The two men carried the war into the war cabinet of which both were now members. The causes of conflict remain obscure…Probably Beaverbrook wished to disregard the established rules for labour as he had done for everything else, while Bevin would allow no encroachment on his domain. Perhaps there was antagonism of principle between the improvising individualist Beaverbrook and the slow-moving Bevin with his ingrained suspicion of all capitalists, especially press lords.”86 Lord Beaverbrook to Churchill was as Secretary of State William H. Seward was to Lincoln – someone who alienated colleagues like Bevin and thought he might be a potential prime minister. Historian Alan Bullock observed: “Other ministers besides Bevin were strong in their opposition to giving Beaverbrook overriding powers over production, but Bevin was the heart of the resistance.”87 Historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote: “Beaverbrook fought to control to control war transport. He won. He fought to control labour. He lost. His improvising zest broke on the rock of Ernest Bevin. Beaverbrook had a fatal weakness. He had no political following.”88 In his fight with Bevin, Beaverbrook was egged on by Bracken, whom Taylor contended “liked fighting. Beaverbrook did not, whatever he might claim. He was at bottom a fixer, and his quarrels were meant to secure a deal, though one of course advantageous to himself.”89 By early 1942, Beaverbrook saw himself as the champion of rationale and efficient war production and as the champion of Russia – placing himself in opposition to leaders of the Labour Party, whom Beaverbrook saw as insufficiently pro- Russia at best and as anti-Russia at worst.
In January 1942, the British ambassador to Russia, Stafford Cripps, came back to London. Taylor wrote: “Cripps returned, without authorization, from his post as ambassador to Russia and was at once hailed as the new saviour of the country. He enjoyed wide esteem, altogether undeserved, as the creator of the Anglo-Soviet alliance. He had a high, indeed excessive, confidence in his own powers. What was worse from Beaverbrook’s point of view, he supplanted Beaverbrook as the hero of the Left.” Taylor noted of the 1942 crisis: “Beaverbrook would not ride out against Churchill, though he might speculate on what would happen if Churchill fell.”90 Still, the line between reality and fantasy was sometimes fuzzy for Beaverbrook. “He remarked to Churchill that [Lord] Halifax had no influence with the American government and suggested that he himself should go to Washington as ambassador.” Nothing came of this gambit.
On February 17, 1942, Churchill rejected Beaverbrook’s advice. On February 19, Churchill announced a reorganized cabinet. When Beaverbrook abruptly resigned, Churchill did not press him, writing later that “the long and harassing discussions which took place in my presence between him and other principal Ministers convinced me it was better to press him no further.”91 Throughout 1941, that had been discussions about giving Beaverbrook wider responsibility over production; Beaverbrook in turn wanted greater authority to pursue things in his own unique way. Taylor wrote: “Churchill favoured Beaverbrook, at this time his most intimate friend, and would have liked to make him overlord of production. The idea broke down, perhaps because of Beaverbrook’s precarious health, more likely because of Bevin’s objection. Beaverbrook could produce the goods. Only Bevin could produce the labour, and this gave him the whiphand.”92 Beaverbrook does not appear to have Seward’s loyalty to his chief, but he appears to have an even greater portion of Seward’s ego. Woodrow Wyatt wrote that Beaverbrook “estimated that Churchill would be driven from power by a dispirited and resentful country. He thought himself the automatic next choice.”93
Beaverbrook resigned from office when he found he could not dictate the terms of his continuation in February 1862. Dr. Charles Wilson, who was Beaverbrook’s physician as well as Churchill’s, did not accept the asthma excuse that Beaverbrook used: “It is true that his attacks became more frequent and more severe in times of strain, but he did not allow them to interfere with anything in which he was interested. It may be that after the fall of Singapore, as Wyatt suggests, Lord Beaverbrook caught a brief glimpse of himself as First Minister of the Crown….”94 On February 26, Beaverbrook wrote Churchill: “I am leaving this Office today and going to the place I came from. And now I must tell you about twenty-one months of high adventure, the like of which has never been known.” Characteristically, it combined fealty to Churchill with justification of his own efforts:
All the time, everything that has been done by me has been due to your holding me up.
You took a great chance in putting me in, and you stood to be shot at by a section of Members for keeping me here.
It was little enough I gave you, compared with what you gave me. I owe my reputation to you. The confidence of the public really comes from you. And my courage was sustained by you. These benefits give me a right to a place in your list of lieutenants who served when you brought salvation to our people in the hour of disaster.95
After leaving the cabinet, Beaverbrook spoke out publicly against those who supposedly opposed opening a Second Front that would help Russia. At one point in 1942, a Churchill aide observed a heated discussion between Beaverbrook and the prime minister, noted: “They abused each other like a pair of fishwives.”96 Historian Angus Calder wrote of Lord Beaverbrook that “throughout his career he showed an unusually acute sense of good and evil, generally choosing the latter….He was, more even that most public figures, a man of contradictions. When his friend was under fire for his activities at the Ministry of Aircraft Production (which had involved him in noisy rows with the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Supply and even, so provocative he was, with the Ministry of Agriculture), Churchill told the House of Commons that Beaverbrook was ‘a man of altogether exceptional force and genius, who is at his very best when things are at their worst.’ Yet, in eleven months at this post, Beaverbrook attempted to resign no less than four times before he finally departed on grounds of ‘ill-health’.”97
Beaverbrook tended to be faddish, but Churchill aide John Colville observed: “The search and support for unpopular causes was combined with an unswerving loyalty to one which stood in obvious contradiction to most of them: the British Empire. He was a convinced imperialist in his Canadian youth. He remained one for all his active life.” Colville summed up the press baron: “Beaverbrook had few principles, only a limited number of convictions, no respect for the truth and loyalties restricted to a few old friends and employees, and, above all, to Winston Churchill himself. He criticized Churchill behind his back, sometimes quite viciously, and on occasion he came close to intriguing against him, but that was part of the incessantly revolving Beaverbrook kaleidoscope. Colville noted that Beaverbrook “assumed various offices, all of which displeased him. He became Minister of State and then Minister of Supply. He ended the war, in a nondepartmental capacity, as Lord Privy Seal. He continued to send the Prime Minister endless minutes, letters and memoranda which distracted Churchill from more urgent occupations. He criticized military strategy, in which he was entirely inexpert, and the time came when even his close friend and admirer, Brendan Bracken, said that he took up more of the Prime Minister’s time than did Hitler.”98
Averell Harriman recalled Beaverbrook accompanying Churchill on a transatlantic trip to the U.S. in May 1943. “Beaverbrook, who was in a somewhat equivocal position with respect to Churchill at the time, had seemed sulky at the beginning of the voyage. The Prime Minister put his hand on Beaverbrook’s knee one day and softy said, ‘You don’t talk any more.’ Beaverbrook later complained to Harriman, ‘I don’t talk because the P.M. talks all the time.’ As the great champion of a second front in the west, Beaverbrook had disapproved of the North African campaign, dismissing it as a colossal blunder which had done nothing to speed the defeat of Germany.” Harriman’s biographer, Elie Abel, noted: “Churchill’s admiration for Beaverbrook, in spite of their frequent disagreements, had long impressed Harriman. Although Beaverbrook had left the government in 1942, the Prime Minister still consulted him steadily on matters involving the Russians.” Still, Beaverbrook’s ideas were at variance with both Churchill and Harriman. “Beaverbrook is for the appeasement policy toward Russia, to which I am dead opposed,” wrote Harriman on May 7, 1943. “I feel strongly that we must be friendly and frank but firm when they behave in a manner which is incompatible with our ideas….Beaverbrook is still an isolationist…and doesn’t give a hoot in hell for the small nations. He would turn over Eastern Europe to Russia without regard to future consequences, the Atlantic Charter, etc.” Still, Harriman missed Beaverbrook’s formal role in the British government: “I personally have great respect for Beaverbrook’s drive and basic shrewdness. He is a bit theatrical in manner, appearing to make decisions with great rapidity. I saw him so intimately that I know these decisions were based on considerable study and prior discussion with members of his staff. Since Beaverbrook left the Government there is no one who has the aggressiveness to get things done in the same manner and I would personally welcome his return. He would make my job much easier.”99
Churchill’s “kitchen cabinet” of Beaverbrook, Bracken and Lindemann, noted historian Paul Addison, were “all indisputably Tory, but like Churchill himself, they were misfits: none of them English, and none of them gentlemen.”100 Over time, Clementine Churchill overcame her aversion to Bracken and Beaverbrook – but Churchill’s political colleagues did not. Dr. Charles Wilson, Churchill’s personal physician, wrote that in early 1942: “The Ministers of the various departments concerned took a rather different view of the Prime Minister’s proposal. They were frankly horrified by the thought of having to work under or with Lord Beaverbrook. Max was quite aware of their hostility and – this influenced him more – of his own limitations.”101
Beaverbrook’s relations with Deputy Prime Minister Clement Atlee were almost as cantankerous as with Bevin. Hugh Dalton, a Labour MP, met with Atlee in September 1943 about Beaverbrook had been named Lord Privy Seal. “He said he had protested violently against the reintroduction of the Beaver. I said I hoped the latter wouldn’t intermeddle with any of my affairs. Atlee said that every minister was saying this. All the Home Front ministers wanted him to go abroad, but the Foreign Office were eager he should stay at home.”102 One aggravation for Churchill was that Beaverbrook had an anti-American streak. Historian Paul Addison noted that Beaverbrook was often blamed for giving bad advice to Churchill: “Beaverbrook was indeed close to Churchill. But so was [Lord] Cherwell [Frederick Lindemann], and the two courtiers often gave conflicting advice. The Government was under more or less continuous pressure from the Untied States over post-war commercial policy….The Roosevelt administration wanted the British to consolidate Article Seven of the Mutual Aid Agreement of 1942 by undertaking to phase out imperial preference after the war. The majority of ministers favoured a liberal commercial policy, but [Leo] Amery, Beaverbrook, Bracken, and the Minister of Agriculture, Robert Hudson, dug in their heels and fought hard for a Commonwealth economic bloc. In the spring of 1944 the American proposal for the creation of an International Fund Monetary Fund split the Conservative part and left the Coalition paralyzed. Churchill received conflicting advice from Cherwell, who was pro-American, and Beaverbrook, who was anti-, and was unable to resolve the problem. And as he complained to the War Cabinet, in April 1944: “I really cannot be expected any my age to start to get up all these currency questions which I have thought nothing about for twenty years.”103
The election of 1945 reawakened Bracken and Beaverbrook’s partisan instincts. John Colville wrote that when on May 24, “Churchill formed a Conservative Caretaker Government, Beaverbrook, more interested in manipulation than in office, made it clear he did not wish to be included. Bracken, offered neither the Exchequer nor his alternative choice, a combination of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Production, finally settled for the Admiralty.”104 Beaverbrook saw the election in stark terms: “Nationalisation or continued free enterprises are the alternatives between which the electors will have to choose – control for control’s sake or its abolition at the earliest feasible moment.” He added: “The Socialists are afraid of two things – their own programme and Churchill.”
Historian Taylor wrote that Bracken and Beaverbrook “combined a radical impatience towards the traditional governing classes with an enthusiasm for private enterprise. Even so Beaverbrook was not above playing a prank on his friend. In July 1944 The Evening Standard revealed that forty years before Bracken’s father had been refused a gun licence in Ireland as a dangerous Nationalist. Beaverbrook professed ignorance of the story and described its publication as ‘a desperate thing to do’. He was not pleased when Bracken used his power as minister of information and attempted to have the story suppressed.”105
Beaverbrook and Bracken are sometimes blamed for the overly partisan nature of Churchill’s campaign in June 1945 to stay in office. The problem with Bracken and Beaverbrook was that they often played the roles of bully and prankster, disregarding the serious impact their actions would have on responsible government and the responsible Churchill. Churchill John Colville had a ringside seat to their antics. He wrote of visiting Beaverbrook’s country home in late May 1945 when Churchill’s coalition government had broken up and a brief but contentious election was beginning. In his diary, Coville wrote: “We had an excellent dinner with a magnum of Champagne and lots of brandy…there followed a long political conversation, with attacks on Bevin, praise of Morrison (the Beaverbrook-Bracken theme) and abuse of Eden and Anderson and of the recent appointment of [Lord] Dunglass (who is pro-Pole while they are violently pro-Russian) as Under Secretary at the Foreign Office. The evening was fun, with a real buccaneering, racketeering atmosphere. Of course, they are both utterly mischievous and will do the Conservative Party countless harm, at this election and afterwards.”106
It is widely assumed that Beaverbrook and Bracken misdirected the Conservative Party campaign in June 1945 – especially its negative partisan tone. “The Conservatives relied chiefly on the glory of Churchill’s name, and he, egged on by Beaverbrook, zestfully turned against Labour the talent for political vituperation which he had previously reserved for Hitler,” wrote historian A. J. P. Taylor. “His greatest card was to discover in Professor Harold Laski, then Chairman of the Labour Party, the sinister head of a future British Gestapo. This card proved ineffective. The electors cheered Churchill and voted against him. They displayed no interest in foreign affairs or imperial might. They were not stirred by any cry to Hang the Kaiser or to extract reparations from Germany. They cared only for their own future: first housing, and then full employment and social security. Here Labour offered a convincing programme. The Conservatives, though offering much the same programme, managed to give the impression that they did not believe in it.”107
Churchill aide Colville observed Churchill, Bracken and Beaverbrook received the election results in the Map Room in the Downing Street Annexe on July 26: “I was there too, and it was impossible not to reflect how fundamentally they had all misjudged the temper of the electorate, Brendan and Beaverbrook in promoting High-Tory prewar policies, Churchill in fighting the campaign with the bellicose tactics he had found so effective on the hustings in 1905….No doubt many people who voted Labour were sufficiently untutored politically to believe, after years of Coalition Government, that Churchill, who was almost universally adored, would continue to lead them whichever way they voted.”108 For once, Bracken, Beaverbrook, and Churchill were in the same boat; they were wrong.
For Further Reference
- Max Hastings, Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, p. 127.
- (Letter from Mark W. Delahay to Abraham Lincoln, Sunday, December 14, 1862).
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, p. 592.
- Matthew Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, p. 29.
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 103.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 170.
- Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 179.
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 105.
- Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, pp. 73-74, 240.
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 107.
- James G. Randall, Lincoln the President: Springfield to Gettysburg, Volume I, p. 160.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 102.
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, The Diary of Orville. Browning Diary Volume I, p. 415 (June 12, 1860).
- (Letter from Orville H. Browning to Abraham Lincoln, Friday, November 9, 1860).
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 174.
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, The Diary of Orville. Browning Diary Volume I, p. 478 (July 8, 1861)
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, pp. 119-120.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 132.
- (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Orville H. Browning, September 22, 1861).
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 152.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 111.
- (Letter from Orville H. Browning to Abraham Lincoln, April 9, 1861).
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 176
- Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, p. 315.
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 114
- Matthew Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, p. 29.
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 105.
- Paul Finkelman and Martin J. Hershock, editors, The Political Lincoln: An Encyclopedia, p. 93. (Cara L. Shelly, “Orville Browning).
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, p. 596 (December 14, 1862).
- Daniel Mark Epstein, The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, pp. 371-372 (See Browning, March 3, 1862.
- Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, pp. 827-828.
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, pp.559-560 (July 15, 1862).
- Matthew Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, p. 23.
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, p. 560. (July 15, 1862).
- David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men” Abraham Lincoln and His Friends, p. 132.
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, pp. 597-598 (December 16, 1862).
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, pp. 598-99 (December 17, 1862).
- Theodore Calvin Pease, editor, Diary of Orville Hickman Browning, Volume I, pp. 599-601 (December 18, 1862).
- Matthew Pinsker, Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldier’s Home, p. 96.
- Philip Van Doren Stern, An End to Valor: The Last Days of the Civil War, pp. 34-35.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 156.
- Allen C. Guelzo, “Defending Emancipation: Abraham Lincoln and the Conkling Letter, 1863,” Civil War History, December 2002, p. 319.
- Maurice Baxter, Orville H. Browning: Lincoln’s Friend and Critic, p. 158.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. ix.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, pp. 202-203.
- John Colville, Fringes of Power, pp. 733-734.
- Elizabeth Nel, Winston Churchill by His Personal Secretary, p. 21.
- John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, pp. 61-62.
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, pp. 293, 358 (October 13, 1941, February 3, 1942).
- A.J.P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 390.
- Ben Pimlott, Hugh Dalton, p. 329.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, pp. 96-97.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, p. 147.
- Edward Spears,. Assignment to Catastrophe: Prelude to Dunkirk, July 1939-May 1940, p. 131.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 346-347 (December 7, 1947).
- Andrew Roberts, ‘The Holy Fox’: A Life of Lord Halifax, p.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 475.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 458.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. xii.
- Max Hastings, Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945, p. 126.
- Mark Pottle, editor, Champion Redoubtable, The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1914-1945, p. 281 (October 2, 1942).
- John Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 732.
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p.68, 71 (July 31, 1940, August 3, 1940).
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p.. 105 (November 19, 1940).
- Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., p. 640.
- Christopher Catherwood, Winston Churchill: The Flawed Genius of World War, p. 115.
- Anthony Eden, The Reckoning; the Memoirs of Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon., pp. 168.
- David Day, Menzies and Churchill at War, p. 28.
- John Colville, The Fringes of Power, p. 286 (November 3, 1940).
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 462 (Letter from Winston S. Churchill to Lord Beaverbrook, January 2, 1941).
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 464 (Letter from Lord Beaverbrook to Winston S. Churchill, January 6, 1941).
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 473-474.
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 481.
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook, p. 491.
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p. 223.
- W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946, p. 78.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 487.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, pp. 491-492.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 476.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 492.
- Richard Langworth, editor, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, p. 324.
- Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain, 1939-45, p. 101.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, pp. 7-8.
- A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 504.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, pp. 28.
- A. J. P Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 509.
- Alan Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin, p. 149.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 543.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 499.
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 507.
- Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate: The Second World War, Volume IV, p. 74.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, p. 509.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran, p. 32.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 32.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 31.
- David Dilks, Churchill and Company, pp. 45, 53.
- Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain, 1939-45, pp. 100-101.
- John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p. 96.
- W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946, pp. 206-208.
- Paul Addison, Churchill on the Home Front, p. 361.
- Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran, p. 28.
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p. 645 (September 27, 1943).
- Paul Addison, Churchill on the Home Front, pp. 376-377.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, p. 200.
- A.J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook: A Biography, p. 551.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, pp. 200-201.
- A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945, p. 596.
- John Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p. 69.