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Rexford Tugwell

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Rexford Tugwell

Rexford Tugwell
Governor of Puerto Rico
In office
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Preceded by José Miguel Gallardo
Succeeded by Jesús T. Piñero
Personal details
Born Rexford Guy Tugwell
July 10, 1891
Sinclairville, New York
Died July 21, 1979 (aged 88)
Santa Barbara, California
Political party Democratic
Profession Economist, Academician

Rexford Guy Tugwell (July 10, 1891 – July 21, 1979) was an economist who became part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first "Brain Trust," a group of Columbia University academics who helped develop policy recommendations leading up to Roosevelt's New Deal. Tugwell served in FDR's administration until he was forced out in 1936. He was a specialist on planning and believed the government should have large-scale plans to move the economy out of the Great Depression because private enterprise was too frozen in place to do the job. He helped design the New Deal farm program and the Resettlement Administration that moved subsidence farmers into small rented farms under close supervision. His ideas on suburban planning resulted in the construction of Greenbelt, Maryland, with low-cost rents for relief families. He was denounced by conservatives who said his government-imposed planning violated the values of individualism.

Roosevelt appointed Tugwell as Governor of Puerto Rico during World War II(1941-1946). He became a professor at various universities, with lengthy service at the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He wrote twenty books, covering the politics of the New Deal, biographies of major politicians, issues in planning, and memoirs of his experiences.

Early life and education

Rexford Tugwell was born in 1891 in Sinclairville, New York. In his youth, he gained an appreciation for workers’ rights and liberal politics from the works of Upton Sinclair, James Bryce, and Edward Bellamy.[1] Tugwell began studying economics in graduate work at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and completed his doctorate at Columbia University. At university, he was influenced by the teaching of Scott Nearing and Simon Patten, as well as the writings of John Dewey in philosophy.[2]


Academic economist

After graduation, Tugwell served as junior faculty at the University of Washington, American University in Paris, and Columbia University.

Tugwell's approach to economics was experimentalist, and he viewed the industrial planning of World War I as a successful experiment. He advocated agricultural planning (led by industry) to stop the rural poverty that had become prevalent due to a crop surplus after the First World War. This method of controlling production, prices, and costs was especially relevant as the Great Depression began.[3]

Roosevelt administration

In 1932 Tugwell was invited to join President Franklin Roosevelt's team of advisers known as the Brain Trust. After Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, Tugwell was appointed first as Assistant Secretary and then in 1934 as Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. He helped create the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and served as its director. The AAA included a domestic allotment program, which paid farmers to voluntarily reduce their production by roughly 30% so that reduced supply would increase the price they received. IKt was funded with a tax on processing companies that used farm commodities. Tugwell's department managed the production of key crops by adjusting the subsidies for non-production.[4]

Tugwell was also instrumental in creating the Soil Conservation Service in 1933, to restrict cultivation, restore poor-quality land, and introduce better agricultural practices to farmers to conserve the soil.[5] This was especially necessary given the widespread damage of the 1930s' Dust Bowls. He additionally played a key role in crafting the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

In April 1935 Tugwell and Roosevelt created the Resettlement Administration (RA), a unit of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Directed by Tugwell, the RA sought to create healthy communities for the rural unemployed by relocating them to new communities for access to urban opportunities. Some of the RA's activities dealt with land conservation and rural aid, but the construction of new suburban satellite cities was the most prominent. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the author Jane Jacobs critically quotes Tugwell on the program: "My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up cheap land, build a whole community and entice people into it. Then go back into the cities and tear down whole slums and make parks of them."[6] She believed that he underestimated the strengths of complex urban communities and caused too much social displacement in "tearing down" neighborhoods that might have been renovated. This resulted in greater damage to inner city neighborhoods.[7]

The RA completed three "Greenbelt" towns before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the program unconstitutional in Franklin Township v. Tugwell. It ruled that housing construction was a state power, and the RA was an illegal delegation of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration's power.[8][9]

Tugwell had previously been denounced as "Rex the Red".[10] The RA's suburban resettlement program earned him condemnation as Communist and un-American because of its social planning aspects. Historians agree he was at all times a loyal American and was never affiliated in any way with the Communist Party.[11]

American Molasses Co.

Given the opposition to his policies, Tugwell resigned from the Roosevelt administration at the end of 1936. He was appointed as a vice president at the American Molasses Co. At this time, he divorced his first wife and married Grace Falke, his former assistant.[12]

Director of New York City Planning Commission

In 1938 Tugwell was appointed as the first director of the New York City Planning Commission. New York's reformist mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, created the commission as part of a city charter reform aimed at reducing corruption and inefficiency. The Planning Commission had relatively limited powers: all actions needed approval from the legislative Board of Estimate. Tugwell tried to assert the commission's power. He tried to retroactively enforce nonconforming land uses, despite a lack of public or legal support. His commission sought to establish public housing at moderate densities, yet repeatedly approved FHA requests for greater density. Robert Moses killed Tugwell's proposed fifty-year master plan with a fiery public denouncement of its open-space protections.[13]

Governor of Puerto Rico

Tugwell served as the last appointed American Luis Muñoz Marín’s Popular Democratic Party, the PPD, which wanted a Commonwealth status.[14]

As he prepared to retire from the Governorship, Tugwell was instrumental in getting the first Puerto Rican appointed to the job, Jesús T. Piñero, then serving as Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C. Tugwell also served as Chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico.

Return to academia

After his stint as governor, Tugwell returned to teaching at a variety of institutions. He had years of service at the University of Chicago, where he helped develop their planning program. He moved to Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the new suburbs designed and built by the Resettlement Administration under his direction.

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tugwell believed that global planning was the only sure way to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. He participated in the Committee to Frame a World Constitution from 1945 to 1948. He also thought the national constitution needed to be amended to enable economic planning. Late in life, he drafted a constitution for the Newstates of America. In it, Planning would become a new branch of federal government, alongside the Regulatory and Electoral branches.[15]

During this time, Tugwell wrote several books, including a biography of Grover Cleveland, subtitled: A Biography of the President Whose Uncompromising Honesty and Integrity Failed America in a Time of Crisis (1968). His biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt was entitled FDR: An Architect of an Era. A Stricken Land was his memoir about his years in Puerto Rico. This book was reprinted in 2007 by the Muñoz Marín Foundation.

Representation in other media

Books and articles by Tugwell

  • The Economic Basis of Public Interest, Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta Publishing Company, 1922.
  • Industry's Coming of Age, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927.
  • “Russian Agriculture,” in Stuart Chase, Robert Dunn, and R. G. Tugwell, eds. Soviet Russia in the second decade: a joint survey by the technical staff of the first American Trade Union Delegation (The John Day Company, 1928)
  • "The Principle of Planning and the Institution of Laissez Faire American Economic Review: Supplement, Papers and Proceedings of the Forty-fourth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (1932) 22#1 pp. 75-92 in JSTOR
  • "Experimental Control in Russian Industry." Political Science Quarterly (1928): 161-187. in JSTOR
  • Mr. Hoover's Economic Policy, New York: John Day, 1932.
  • The Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts, New York: Columbia University Press, 1933.
  • with Howard Copeland Hill. Our economic society and its problems: a study of American levels of living and how to improve them (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1934)
  • The Battle for Democracy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1935.
  • Changing the Colonial Climate: the Story, from His Official Messages, of Governor Rexford Guy Tugwell's Efforts to Bring Democracy to an Island Possession Which Serves the United Nations as a Warbase, selection and explanatory comments by J. San Juan Lear: Bureau of Supplies, Printing, and Transportation, 1942.
  • Puerto Rican Public Papers of R. G. Tugwell, Governor, San Juan: Service Office of the Government of Puerto Rico, Printing Division, 1945.
  • Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the Governor, 1945, San Juan: Government of Puerto Rico, 1945.
  • The Stricken Land: The Story of Puerto Rico, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1947. ISBN 978-0-8371-0252-8
  • The Place of Planning in Society: Seven Lectures, San Juan: Office of the Government Planning Board, 1954.
  • A Chronicle of Jeopardy, 1945–1955, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  • The Democratic Roosevelt: A Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.
  • The Art of Politics, As Practiced by Three Great Americans: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Luis Munoz Marin, and Fiorell H. LaGuardia, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958.
  • The Enlargement of the Presidency, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1960.
  • The Light of Other Days, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1962.
  • How They Became President, Simon & Schuster, 1964.
  • FDR: An Architect of an Era, Macmillan, 1967.
  • The Brains Trust, Viking Press, 1968. ISBN 978-0-670-00273-3
  • Grover Cleveland, Macmillan, 1968.
  • In Search of Roosevelt, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972. ISBN 978-0-674-44625-0
  • The Emerging Constitution, Harper's Magazine Press, 1974. ISBN 978-0-06-128225-6.
  • The Diary of Rexford G. Tugwell: The New Deal, 1932-1935 (Greenwood, 1992)

Tugwell's autobiographies include The Light of Other Days (1962), To the Lesser Heights of Morningside (1982), The Stricken Land (1947), A Chronicle of Jeopardy (1955), The Brains Trust (1968), Off Course (1971), and Roosevelt's Revolution: The First Year, a Personal Perspective (1977).


  1. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 11-18.
  2. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography, pp 21-54.
  3. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 35-54.
  4. ^ Sternsher, Bernard. Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal. Rutgers University Press, 1964. 183-193.
  5. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. pp 81-82.
  6. ^ Chapter 16, "Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money," p. 310
  7. ^ Chapter 16, "Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money," p. 310
  8. ^ Myhra, David. "Rexford Guy Tugwell: Initiator of America’s Greenbelt New Towns, 1935 to 1936," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 40, no. 3 (1974).
  9. ^ Arnold, Joseph. The New Deal in the Suburbs. Ohio State University Press, 1971.
  10. ^ Gilbert, Jess and Carolyn Howe. "Beyond "State vs. Society": Theories of the State and New Deal Agricultural Policies." American Sociological Review 56, no. 2 (1991): 216.
  11. ^ Namorato, Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 114-115.
  12. ^ Milestones, Dec. 5, 1938 "Rexford Tugwell, TIME, 1938
  13. ^ Gelfand, Mark. "Rexford G. Tugwell and the Frustration of Planning in New York City," Journal of the American Planning Association 51, no. 2 (1985): 151-159.
  14. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 138-143.
  15. ^ Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography. 1988. 149-162.

Further reading

  • Chichester, Steven A. "Making America Over: Rexford Guy Tugwell and his thoughts on central planning," (MA thesis Department of History." Liberty University Lynchburg, Virginia, 2011) online
  • Gelfand, Mark. "Rexford G. Tugwell and the Frustration of Planning in New York City," Journal of the American Planning Association 51, no. 2 (1985): 151-159.
  • Myhra, David. "Rexford Guy Tugwell: Initiator of America’s Greenbelt New Towns, 1935 to 1936," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 40, no. 3 (1974).
  • Namorato, Michael. Rexford G. Tugwell: A Biography (1988)
    • review by Ellis W. Hawley, Reviews in American History (1990) 18#2 pp 229-234. in JSTOR
  • Namorato, Michael. "Tugwell, Rexford Guy"; Feb. 2000American National Biography Online Access Aug 23 2014
  • Sternsher, Bernard. Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal (Rutgers University Press, 1964)
  • Whitten, David O. "Tugwell after Eighty Years." Essays in Economic & Business History 22 (2012). [ online]

External links

  • Biography on Spartacus Educational
  • Rexford G. Tugwell Mini-biography at the United States National Park Service website.
  • Tugwell Room of the Greenbelt Library.
  • 1934 Time Magazine Cover featuring Rexford G. Tugwell
Government offices
Preceded by
José Miguel Gallardo
Governor of Puerto Rico
Succeeded by
Jesus T. Piñero
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