Benjamin V. Cohen

Benjamin Victor Cohen (September 23, 1894 – August 15, 1983) was a member of the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, and had a public service career that spanned from the early New Deal through and beyond the Vietnam War era.

Benjamin V. Cohen
Born(1894-09-23)September 23, 1894
DiedAugust 15, 1983(1983-08-15) (aged 88)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Harvard Law School
Known forKey member of Franklin Roosevelt's brain trust


Cohen earned a Bachelor of Philosophy (1914) and Juris Doctor (1915) from the University of Chicago, and a Doctor of Juridical Science (1916) from Harvard Law School.

Early career, Brain Trust, New DealEdit

Cohen was a law clerk to Judge Julian Mack.[1] He served as counsel for the American Zionist Movement from 1919 to 1921, during which he acted as Zionist counsel to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.[2] Cohen practiced law in New York from 1921 to 1933.[2] During this period Cohen worked with the National Consumers League to draft and enact minimum wage, child labor, and worker hours legislation that would survive a challenge in the Supreme Court.[3]

Cohen's first appearance on the national scene was as a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Brain Trust. Cohen became a part of the Roosevelt administration in 1933 when Felix Frankfurter, then a Harvard Law School professor, brought Cohen, Thomas Corcoran, and James M. Landis together to write what became the Truth In Securities Act. Later that year Cohen was assigned to work on railroad legislation.

Much of Cohen's work during the New Deal was in conjunction with Corcoran. Together they were known as the "Gold Dust Twins" and appeared on the cover of Time magazine's September 12, 1938, edition.[4] By 1940 their friendship was well known enough to be used as a simile in P.G. Wodehouse's novel, Quick Service.[5]

World War II and post-warEdit

In 1941, during the period leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II he helped write the Lend-Lease plan. Cohen also assisted in the drafting of the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks agreements leading to the establishment of the United Nations. In 1945 Cohen served as the United States' chief draftsman at the Potsdam Conference.[6]

In 1942, The New York Times published a letter by Cohen and co-author Erwin Griswold decrying the United States Supreme Court's Betts v. Brady ruling that poor criminal defendants had no right to an attorney. Two decades later the issue again came before the Supreme Court in the Gideon v. Wainwright case. The attorneys for Gideon, the person accused of a crime, concluded their brief to the Supreme Court with a lengthy quotation from the Cohen/Griswold letter. This time the Supreme Court ruled that the government must appoint attorneys for criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney.[7]

In 1948 Cohen advised both the United States and the new State of Israel with respect to the first official exchange between those two countries.[8] Cohen provided crucial advice and counsel to senators working for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.[9] In 1967 Cohen testified in favor of a proposed United States Senate resolution that would have called upon President Johnson to request the United Nations consider proposals to end the Vietnam War.[10]

Jordan A. Schwarz writes "Although no government lawyer was as respected as Cohen, he never had a prominent position in government because of his palpable Jewishness."[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Cohen was the uncle of Selma Jeanne Cohen, a prominent dance historian.[12]


  • "Cohen was known for his slouching posture, sloppy dress, absentminded table manners - and for a skill at drafting legislation that was generally reckoned the best in the United States."[13]
  • He "looked and talked, as a friend wrote, 'like a Dickens portrait of an absent-minded professor.'"[14]



  • Caro, Robert A. (2002), Master of the Senate, New York: Alfred a Knopf Inc, ISBN 0-394-52836-0
  • Lash, Joseph P. (1988), Dealers and Dreamers, New York: Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-18716-5


  1. ^ Lash, p. 16
  2. ^ a b Louchheim, p. 336.
  3. ^ Lash, chap. IV
  4. ^ Gold Dust Twins. Cover
  5. ^ "We're like Cohen and Corcoran. One of those beautiful friendships." Chapter 9.
  6. ^ Mee (book club edition), pp. 102, 219 & 223.
  7. ^ Lewis
  8. ^ "Counsel to the President," the memoirs of Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke, published in 1991 Archived 2010-06-13 at the Wayback Machine (visited 9/3/09)
  9. ^ Caro, pp. 949-51 & 1008.
  10. ^ Chicago Tribune, "Give Viet Cong Voice In Peace Talks - Cohen" (October 27, 1967).
  11. ^ Schwarz, Jordan A (1994). The New Dealers. Vintage Books. p. 144.
  12. ^ See Selma Jeanne Cohen Papers b. 3 f. 20.
  13. ^ Mee (book club edition), p. 219
  14. ^ Caro, p. 949

Further readingEdit


Lasser, William, Benjamin V. Cohen: Architect of the New Deal (Yale University Press : 2002)


"The Janizariat". Time. September 12, 1938.


  • Benjamin V. Cohen Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Benjamin V. Cohen Papers, Zionist Archives, New York

External linksEdit