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Arthur Vandenberg

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Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg (March 22, 1884 – April 18, 1951) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from Michigan from 1928 to 1951. A member of the Republican Party, he participated in the creation of the United Nations. He is best known for leading the Republican Party from a foreign policy of isolationism to one of internationalism, and supporting the Cold War, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate from 1947 to 1949.

Arthur Vandenberg
Arthur H. Vandenberg.jpg
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Preceded byKenneth McKellar
Succeeded byKenneth McKellar
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Preceded byTom Connally
Succeeded byTom Connally
Republican Senate Conference Chairmen
In office
January 3, 1945 – January 3, 1947
LeaderWallace H. White, Jr.
Vice ChairHarold Hitz Burton
John Chandler Gurney
Milton Young
Preceded byCharles L. McNary
Succeeded byEugene D. Millikin
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 31, 1928 – April 18, 1951
Preceded byWoodbridge Nathan Ferris
Succeeded byBlair Moody
Personal details
Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg

(1884-03-22)March 22, 1884
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
DiedApril 18, 1951(1951-04-18) (aged 67)
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Watson (desc.)
Hazel Harper Whitaker
Alma materUniversity of Michigan

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan in a family of Dutch Americans, Vandenberg began his career as a newspaper editor and publisher. In 1928, Republican Governor Fred W. Green appointed Vandenberg to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy that arose after the death of Woodbridge Nathan Ferris. Vandenberg won election to a full term later that year and remained in the Senate until his death in 1951. He supported the early New Deal programs but came to oppose most of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's domestic policies. During the late 1930s, Vandenberg also opposed the Unites States' becoming involved in World War II and urged Roosevelt to reach an accommodation with Japan.

Vandenberg abandoned his isolationism, however, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1947 and supported Democratic President Harry Truman's Cold War policies, asserting that "politics stops at the water's edge." Vandenberg also served as the Chairman of the Republican Senate Conference from 1945 to 1947 and as the president pro tempore of the Senate from 1947 to 1949. He unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president in 1940 and 1948.


Early life and familyEdit

Vandenberg was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Alpha (née Hendrick) and Aaron Vandenberg, of mostly Dutch heritage. Vandenberg attended public schools there and studied law at the University of Michigan (1900–1901), where he was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. After a brief stint working in New York at Collier's magazine, he returned home in 1906 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Watson. They had three children. She died in 1917, and in 1918 Vandenberg married Hazel Whitaker. They had no children.

From 1906 to 1928, he worked as a newspaper editor and publisher at the Grand Rapids Herald. It was owned by William Alden Smith, who served as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1907 to 1919. Vandenberg as publisher made the paper highly profitable. Vandenberg wrote most of the editorials, calling for more Progressivism in the spirit of his hero Theodore Roosevelt. However he supported incumbent President William Howard Taft over Roosevelt in the 1912 election.[1]

Prior to his Senate appointment, Vandenberg had gained national attention for his 1921 biography The Greatest American: Alexander Hamilton. [2][3] He followed this in 1923 with If Hamilton Were Here Today: American Fundamentals Applied to Modern Problems; and, in 1926, The Trail of a Tradition, a study of American nationalism and U.S. foreign policy.

Vandenberg was a Mason, Shriner, Elk, and Woodman.[2]

Senate career 1928–1935Edit

Senate portrait of Arthur H. Vandenberg

On March 31, 1928, Governor Fred W. Green appointed 44-year-old Vandenberg, a Republican, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Woodbridge Nathan Ferris, a Democrat. Green made the appointment reluctantly under considerable political pressure. Vandenberg immediately declared his intention to stand for election to both the short, unexpired term and the full six-year term.

He became the fifth former journalist in the U.S. Senate.[2] Governor Green "stressed the advantage of youth as a qualification for the rough-and-tumble of life in Washington committee rooms" which was deemed an explanation for appointing Vandenberg over the aged Joseph Warren Fordney for the position.[2] "Fellow Republican publishers to whom he can look from behind his horn-rimmed glasses for encouragement in his maiden speech are Cutting of New Mexico, Capper of Kansas, La Follette of Wisconsin. Senator-publisher Carter Glass of Virginia sits across the aisle among the Democrats."[2]

In November 1928, Vandenberg was handily elected for a full term, defeating Democratic challenger John W. Bailey with over 70% of the vote.[4] In the Senate, he piloted into law[citation needed] the Reapportionment Act of 1929, which provided for the automatic redistricting of the House of Representatives after each national census. He was at first an ardent supporter of Republican President Herbert Hoover but he became discouraged by Hoover's intransigence, and failures in dealing with the Great Depression.

After the election of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency in 1932, Vandenberg went along with most of the early New Deal measures, except for the NIRA and AAA. With the exception of his amendment to the 1933 Glass–Steagall Banking Act, that created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Vandenberg failed to secure enactment of any significant legislative proposals. By the 1934 election, though his own political position was precarious, he was still reelected over Democratic candidate Frank Albert Picard by 52,443 votes.[5]

Opposing the New Deal 1935–1939Edit

When the new Congress convened in 1935, there were only twenty-five Republican senators, and Vandenberg was one of the most effective opponents of the second New Deal. He voted against most Roosevelt-sponsored measures, notable exceptions being the Banking Act of 1935 and the Social Security Act. He pursued a policy of what he called fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, states' rights, and reduced taxation. He felt that Franklin Roosevelt had usurped the powers of Congress, and he spoke of the dictatorship of Roosevelt. But at the 1936 Republican National Convention, Vandenberg refused to permit the party to nominate him for Vice President, anticipating Roosevelt's victory that year.[6]

As part of the conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, Vandenberg helped defeat Roosevelt's plan to pack the Supreme Court. He helped defeat the Passamaquoddy Bay tidal power and Florida Canal projects, voted against the National Labor Relations Act, various New Deal tax measures, and the Hours and Wages Act.

American foreign policyEdit

Vandenberg became a member of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1929. Starting as an internationalist, he voted in favor of United States membership on the World Court. However, the war clouds gathering in Europe moved him towards isolationism. His experiences during the Nye Committee hearings on the munitions industry, of which he was the Senate co-sponsor, convinced him that entry into World War I had been a disastrous error.[7]

He supported the isolationist Neutrality Acts of the 1930s but wanted and sponsored more severe bills designed to renounce all traditional neutral "rights" and restrict and prevent any action by the President that might cause the United States to be drawn into war. He was one of the most effective of the diehard isolationists in the Senate. Except for advocating aid to Finland after the Soviet invasion of that country and urging a quid pro quo in the Far East to prevent a war with Japan over the Manchuria-China question, his position was consistently isolationist.[7]

In mid-1939 he introduced legislation nullifying the 1911 Treaty of Navigation and Commerce with Japan and urged that the administration to negotiate a new treaty with Japan recognizing the status quo with regard to Japan's occupation of Chinese territory. Instead, Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull used the resolution as a pretext for giving Japan the required six months' notice of intent to cancel the treaty, beginning the policy of putting pressure on Japan that led to the Attack on Pearl Harbor. On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack however his position changed radically. In his private papers he wrote that at Pearl Harbor, isolationism died for any realist. In the end, only one member of Congress, Republican Jeannette Rankin, voted against war with Japan.

United Nations and internationalism 1940–1950Edit

Vandenberg welcomes new congressman Gerald Ford to Washington DC, 1949

In the election of 1940, Vandenberg secured a third term in the Senate by defeating Democratic challenger Frank Fitzpatrick by over 100,000 votes.[8] During World War II, Vandenberg's position on American foreign policy changed radically. Although he continued to vote with the conservative coalition against Roosevelt's domestic proposals, Vandenberg gradually abandoned his isolationism to become an architect of a bipartisan foreign policy, which he defined as a consensus developed by consultation between the President, the State Department, and congressional leaders from both parties, especially those in the Senate.

In 1943 British scholar Isaiah Berlin, working for the British embassy, prepared a confidential intelligence summary of the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He described Vandenberg as:

On January 10, 1945, he delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world" in the Senate Chamber, publicly announcing his conversion from "isolationism" to "internationalism." [10] Following the completion of the second World War, Vandenberg was elected to his fourth and final term in the U.S. Senate, defeating his Democratic challenger, James H. Lee, by earning over two-thirds of the vote in the 1946 election. In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, including presenting the critical Vandenberg resolution.[11]

As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he asserted that "politics stops at the water's edge," and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support. Francis O. Wilcox, first chief of staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, recalled Vandenberg's Senate career as an exemplar of bipartisanship in American foreign policy.[12] In October of 2000, the Senate bestowed a rare honor on Vandenberg, voting to include his portrait in a "very select collection" in the United States Senate Reception Room.[13]

Last yearsEdit

Vandenberg (left) in the Oval Office (1947)

In 1940 and 1948 Vandenberg was a "favorite son" candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In 1950 Vandenberg announced that he had developed cancer. He died on April 18, 1951, and is buried in Oakhill Cemetery in Grand Rapids.[14]


The former Vandenberg Creative Arts Academy of the Grand Rapids Public Schools was named after him.

In September 2004, a portrait of Vandenberg, along with one of Senator Robert F. Wagner, was unveiled in the Senate Reception Room.[15] The two new portraits joined a group of highly distinguished senators including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Robert A. Taft. Portraits of this group of senators, known as the "Famous Five," had been unveiled in March 1959.[16] A statue dedicated to Vandenberg was unveiled in May 2005 in downtown Grand Rapids, on Monroe Street, north of Rosa Parks Circle.[17][18]

Senator Vandenberg is memorialized in a Michigan historical marker for the Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg/Vandenberg Center in Grand Rapids[19]

Vandenberg Hall at Oakland University is named in his honor.

In southeast Michigan, two Arthur H. Vandenberg Elementary Schools are named after him - one in Redford and the other in Southfield.

Noteworthy family membersEdit

Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr. (1907–1968), the Senator's son, worked for the Senator for more than a decade. In 1952 President Eisenhower appointed him Appointments Secretary, but he took a leave of absence before Eisenhower was inaugurated.

Senator Vandenberg's nephew, U.S. Air Force General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, served as Air Force Chief of Staff and Director of Central Intelligence. Vandenberg Air Force Base was named in his honor.

Senator Vandenberg's great nephew, Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Jr., served as a Major General in the Air Force.

Committee assignments and diplomatic serviceEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kaplan, 2015, pp. 5–8
  2. ^ a b c d e "National Affairs: Michigan's Vandenberg". Time Magazine. April 29, 1927. Retrieved January 7, 2011.
  3. ^ G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1921
  4. ^ Senate election 1928 (Archive)
  5. ^ Senate election 1934
  6. ^ Tompkins, 1970
  7. ^ a b Kaplan, 2015
  8. ^ Senate election 1940 (Archive)
  9. ^ Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History. 57 (2): 141–53. JSTOR 4634869. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-21.
  10. ^ Full text here:
  11. ^ Gazell, 1973
  12. ^ "Oral History Excerpt | Francis O. Wilcox on Arthur Vandenberg" United States Senate Historical Office.
  13. ^ "Arthur Vandenberg: A Featured Biography" United States Senate Historical Office.
  14. ^ Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg (1884 - 1951) - Find A Grave Memorial
  15. ^ U.S. Senate Unveils Mural portraits of Arthur Vandenberg and Robert Wagner
  16. ^ U.S. Senate: Chronology of Senate Reception Room Portraits
  17. ^ Grand Rapids' late U.S. Sen. Arthur VandenBerg remembered on 65th anniversary of U.N. |
  18. ^ Honoring Senator Arthur Vandenberg: Statue Dedication -
  19. ^ Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg / Vandenberg Center, Michigan Historical Markers

Further readingEdit

  • "Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg," in Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951–1955, American Council of Learned Societies, 1977
  • Egan, Maurice Francis. "Hamilton's Ghost Walking the Stage of Politics." The New York Times Book Review: June 10, 1923. (Review of Vandenberg's book If Hamilton Were Here Today.)
  • Gagnon, Frédérick. "Dynamic Men: Vandenberg, Fulbright, Helms and the Activity of the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Since 1945." online (2013)
  • Gazell, James A. "Arthur H. Vandenberg, Internationalism, and the United Nations." Political Science Quarterly (1973): 375–94. in JSTOR
  • Gunther, John (1947). "A Talk With Vandenberg". Inside U.S.A. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 391–97.
  • Haas, Lawrence J. Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World (Potomac Books, 2016), ISBN 1612348122 excerpt
  • Hill, Thomas Michael. "Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, the Politics of Bipartisanship, and the Origins of Anti-Soviet Consensus, 1941–1946", World Affairs 138 (Winter 1975–1976), pp. 219–41.
  • Hudson, Daryl J. "Vandenberg Reconsidered: Senate Resolution 239 and US Foreign Policy," Diplomatic History (1977) 1#1
  • Kaplan, Lawrence S. The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: From Isolation to International Engagement. (University Press of Kentucky, 2015); major scholarly study excerpt
  • Meijer, Hendrik. Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century (University of Chicago Press, 2017), ISBN 022643348X
  • Meijer, Hank. "Arthur Vandenberg and the Fight for Neutrality, 1939." Michigan Historical Review (1990): 1-21.
  • Tompkins, C. David. Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: the evolution of a modern Republican, 1884–1945 (Michigan State University Press, 1970)

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Vandenberg Jr, Arthur H. The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg (Boston, 1952).

Published worksEdit

External linksEdit