James Aloysius "Jim" Farley (May 30, 1888 – June 9, 1976) was one of the first Irish Catholic politicians in American history to achieve success on a national level, serving as Chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as Postmaster General simultaneously under the first two administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A business executive and dignitary, and a Knight of Malta, Farley was commonly referred to as a political kingmaker, and was responsible for Franklin D. Roosevelt's rise to the presidency. Farley was the campaign manager for New York State politician Alfred E. Smith's 1922 gubernatorial campaign and Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1928 and 1930 gubernatorial campaigns, as well as FDR's Presidential campaigns of 1932 and 1936. Farley predicted large landslides in both, and revolutionized the use of polling, and polling data. He was responsible for pulling together the New Deal Coalition of Catholics, labor unions, African Americans, and farmers for FDR. Farley, and the administration's patronage machine he presided over, helped to fuel the social and infrastructure programs of the New Deal. He handled most mid-level and lower-level appointments in consultation with state and local Democratic organizations.
Farley helped to normalize diplomatic relations with the Holy See and in 1933 was the first high-ranking government official to travel to Rome, where he had an audience with Pope Pius XI and dinner with Cardinal Pacelli (future Pope Pius XII).
Farley opposed Franklin Roosevelt breaking the two-term tradition of the presidency, and broke with Roosevelt on that issue in 1940. As of 1942, Farley was considered the supreme Democratic Party Boss of New York. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed Farley to serve a senior post as a commissioner on the Hoover Commission, also known as the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government. Farley's work on the Hoover Commission would lead to the development and ratification of the 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, establishing the modern executive term-limit law. This was viewed by many, including Farley, as vindication for his public opposition to FDR's third term.
Farley guided and remained at the helm of Coca-Cola International for over 30 years and was responsible for the company's global expansion as a quasi-government agency in World War II. This was used as a boost to the morale and energy levels of the fighting men. Shipped with food and ammunition as a “war priority item,” the deal spread Coke's market worldwide at government expense. Also at U.S. expense after the war, fifty-nine new Coke plants were installed to help rebuild Europe.
The Landmark James Farley Post Office in New York City is designated in his honor and as a monument to his career in public service.
Early life and career
James Aloysius Farley was born in Grassy Point, New York, one of five sons whose grandparents were Irish Catholic immigrants. His father, James Farley, was involved in the brick-making industry, first as a laborer and later as a part owner of three small schooners engaged in the brick-carrying trade. His mother was the former Ellen Goldrick.
After his father died suddenly, Farley helped his mother tend a bar and grocery store that she purchased to support the family. After graduating from high school, he attended Packard Business College in New York City to study bookkeeping and other business skills. After graduation he was employed by the United States Gypsum Corporation.
In 1911, Farley officially began his service as a politician when he was elected town clerk of Stony Point, New York. Despite Stony Point's Republican leanings, Farley was reelected twice. He was elected Chairman of the Rockland County Democratic Party in 1918, and used this position to curry favor with Tammany Hall Boss Charles F. Murphy by convincing him that Alfred E. Smith would be the best choice for governor. Farley married the former Elizabeth A. Finnegan on April 28, 1920. They had two daughters and one son, Elizabeth, Ann and James Aloysius Farley, Jr.
Farley backed this up when he secured the upstate vote for Smith north of the Bronx line when he ran for Governor the same year. The Democrats could not win north of the Bronx line before Farley organized the Upstate New York Democratic organization. After helping Smith become Governor of New York State, Farley was awarded the post of Port Warden of New York City. He was the last Democrat to hold this post, which was taken over by the Port Authority of New York. Farley ran for the New York State Assembly in 1922 and won in Rockland County, a normally solid Republican stronghold. He sat in the 146th New York State Legislature in 1923, but lost it at the next election for having voted "wet" (i.e. voted for the repeal of the Mullan–Gage Act, the New York State law to enforce Prohibition). Farley was appointed to the New York State Athletic Commission at the suggestion of State Senator Jimmy Walker in 1923 and Farley served as a delegate to the 1924 Democratic National Convention, where he befriended FDR, who would give his famous "Happy Warrior" speech regarding Smith.
Farley fought for equal rights for African-Americans as Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. In 1926, Farley threatened to resign his post as Athletic Commissioner if boxing champion Jack Dempsey did not fight the mandatory challenger, African-American fighter Harry "The Black Panther" Wills. Farley banned Dempsey from fighting Gene Tunney and publicly threatened to revoke Tex Rickard's Madison Square Garden license if he ignored the ruling of the commission. This public stand for Negro rights proved to be a valuable asset to the Democratic Party for generations, and would sow the seeds of the Negro bloc of the New Deal. Wills was perhaps the most well known victim of the "color line" drawn by white heavyweight champions after the title reign of Jack Johnson. Wills fought between 1911 and 1932 and was ranked as the number one challenger for the throne, but was never given the opportunity to fight for the title. In 2003, he was named to Ring Magazine's list of 100 greatest punchers of all time.
During this period of time, Farley merged five small building supply companies to form General Builders Corporation, which would become the city's largest building supply company. Farley's firm was awarded federal contracts under the Republican Hoover Administration to supply building materials to construct buildings now considered landmarks, such as the Annex of the James A. Farley Post Office Building in New York City. General Builders supplied materials for the construction of the Empire State Building as well. Farley was an appointed official and resigned his post from General Builders when he joined FDR's cabinet.
After some convincing from Farley and long time FDR confidant Louis Howe, Roosevelt asked Farley to run his 1928 campaign for the New York governorship. Farley orchestrated FDR's narrow victory in the 1928 gubernatorial election. Farley was named secretary of the New York State Democratic Committee and orchestrated FDR's reelection in 1930. He was named Chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, a post he held until his resignation in 1944. Farley helped bring to Roosevelt's camp the powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and helped Roosevelt win the 1932 Presidential nomination and election. This was due to Farley's ability to gather the Catholics, unions, and big city machines (while maintaining the Solid South) into the New Deal Coalition. Farley would repeat this process in 1936 when he correctly predicted the states Roosevelt would carry, and the only two states he would lose, so goes the adage "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont". This prediction secured Farley's reputation in American history as a political prophet.
New Deal years 1933–40
In accordance with political tradition, FDR appointed Farley Postmaster General, a post traditionally given to the campaign manager or an influential supporter, and also took the unusual step of naming Farley Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in addition to the cabinet post in 1933. Farley was constantly harassed by FDR's opposition for refusing to resign one of these posts.
Farley worked hard to keep the Post Office going through the Depression and, through his expert stewardship, the once unprofitable Post Office Department began turning a profit. Farley was instrumental in revolutionizing transcontinental airmail service, and reorganized the Post Office's airmail carriers. Farley worked in concert with the Pan American World Airways' (Pan Am) president Juan Trippe to see that the mail was delivered safely and cost-effectively. This was after a brief period of the Army carrying the mail, with servicemen killed flying in bad weather. Farley oversaw and was responsible for the flight of the first China Clipper.
Farley is remembered among stamp collectors for two things. One is a series of souvenir sheets that were issued at commemorative events and which bore his name as the authorizer. The other are twenty stamps known as "Farley's Follies". These were preprints, mostly imperforated and ungummed, of stamps of the period, that Farley bought at face value out of his own pocket and gave to President Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, both collectors, as well to members of his family and special friends of the Administration. (Farley himself did not collect stamps.) Unfortunately, some of these reached the market, offered at the high prices commanded by rarities. When ordinary stamp collectors learned of this, they lodged strenuous protests, newspaper editorials leveled charges of corruption and a heated Congressional investigation ensued. Finally, in 1935 many more stamps of these unfinished stamps were produced and made generally available to collectors at their face value. Today the souvenir sheets and single cutout reprints are not scarce. The original sheets were autographed to distinguish them from the reprints, and fifteen of them were displayed in an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in June 2009.
Farley controlled Federal patronage in the new administration and was very influential within Roosevelt's Brain Trust and the Democratic party throughout the United States. Farley used his control of the patronage to see that Roosevelt's first 100 days of New Deal legislation was passed. Farley masterfully used the patronage machine to line up support for the New Deal's liberal programs. He helped to bring about the end to Prohibition and the defeat of the Ludlow Amendment, the 1939 attempt by isolationists to limit the foreign affairs powers of the president by requiring a referendum for a declaration of war without an attack. By swaying the votes of the Irish Catholic legislators in the Congress, Farley was able to bring about a defeat to the amendment, which if passed, would have prevented the President from sending military aid to Great Britain. Many Irish legislators had refused to lend aid to the British because of the potato famine.
Farley's close relationship with FDR deteriorated as 1940 drew closer. Farley began seeking support for a presidential bid of his own after FDR refused to publicly seek a third term, only indicating that he could not decline the nomination if his supporters drafted him at the 1940 convention. As Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, this left Farley without a legitimate candidate. Roosevelt would publicly support Cordell Hull after privately telling Farley and others they could seek the nomination.
Farley also opposed the "packing" of the Supreme Court, but in all other instances, he was continuously loyal and supportive of FDR's policies. Farley was asked by FDR to seek the governorship of New York multiple times during his tenure in the administration, but he had refused on every occasion.
In 1940, Farley resigned as Postmaster General and party chairman after placing second in delegates at the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where Roosevelt was "drafted" for a third term. Farley was the third Irish-American Roman Catholic to be nominated for the presidency and was the first Irish-American Roman Catholic to achieve national success when FDR appointed Farley to his cabinet as Postmaster General and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Eleanor Roosevelt flew to the convention to try to repair the damage in the Roosevelt-Farley relationship. Although Farley remained close to her and to Jimmy Roosevelt, he felt betrayed by FDR and refused to join FDR's 1940 campaign team.
Post-politics life and legacy
In 1938, Farley wrote his autobiography, Behind the Ballots. After resigning from the Roosevelt administration in 1940, Farley was named Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, a vehicle created exclusively for his talents. Farley held this post until his retirement in 1973. Farley defeated a Roosevelt bid to secure the NYS nominee for governor in 1942. Farley once again became an important national political force when his old friend, Harry Truman, became President with the death of FDR.
Farley remained active in state and national politics until his death at aged 88, on June 9, 1976, in New York City. Prior to his death, Farley had been the last surviving member of FDR's cabinet. Farley was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
Farley, the former chairman of Coca-Cola Export, was the only man to serve as National Party Chairman, New York State Party Chairman, and Postmaster General simultaneously. Farley's respect crossed party lines. Towards the end of his career, Farley as an elder statesman, pushed for campaign finance reform and for less influence of special interest groups and corporations in political activity.
- Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York named James A. Farley one of its "Bicentennial People/Innovator" in commemoration of its 200-year anniversary in 2007.
- "The James A. Farley Award" is the Boxing Writers Associations highest honor, awarded to those who exhibit honesty and integrity in the sport of boxing.
- Farley's Box: name given to a group of front row seats along Yankee Stadium's first base line which was frequented by Farley and many famous VIPs and guests. In later years, Farley would donate those tickets to Boys Clubs in New York City and the surrounding boroughs.
- James A. Farley was also the first guest on NBC's Meet the Press, the longest running show in television history.
- Farley is also known for his eponymous device, the Farley file.
- In 1962, Mr. Farley received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York".
- Farley's Law: Voters will decide the presidential candidate they are most likely to vote for by mid October.
- As explained in the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Jim Farley was known for his ability to remember names and details of almost every person he met.
- James Farley Post Office, New York City Landmark, National Register of Historic Places
- James A. Farley elementary school, Stony Point, New York
- James A. Farley memorial bridge, Stony Point, New York
- Farley file