Gardner Jackson, son of a wealthy railroad magnate, was born Colorado Springs in 1896. He attended Amherst College (1914-1917) before joining the United States Army during the First World War. After completing his education at Columbia University he joined the investment firm of Boetcher, Porter and Company in Denver. (1)
Jackson, who had developed strong political views, became a reporter with the Denver Times. In 1920 he joined the Boston Globe. In July, 1921 Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Jackson was convinced that both men were not guilty of the crime and joined with John Dos Passos, Alice Hamilton, Paul Kellog, Jane Addams, Heywood Broun, William Patterson, Upton Sinclair, Dorothy Parker, Ruth Hale, Ben Shahn, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Felix Frankfurter, Susan Gaspell, Mary Heaton Vorse, John Howard Lawson, Freda Kirchway, Floyd Dell, Katherine Anne Porter, Michael Gold, Bertrand Russell, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells to obtain a retrial.
After their execution Gardner Jackson organized the funeral of the two men. Time Magazine reported: "First came the three leading members of the Defense Committee - Gardner Jackson, Aldino Felicani, Mary Donovan. Each kissed the brows of the dead. An uncountable crowd, pushed and prodded into line by police, shuffled stuffily after to scowl, weep or gape. Miss Donovan was arrested when she tried to insert an anti-Judge Thayer placard among the funeral flowers... Mary Donovan and Gardner Jackson of the defense committee had the hardihood to follow into the crematorium after Miss Donovan had read a last eulogy to the dead. They peered through a glassed peephole at the coffins flaming in the vault. On the rim of the surrounding natural amphitheatre, the crowd watched the wisp of smoke until nightfall." (2)
In 1931 he became the Washington correspondent for The Toronto Star. A supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt he joined the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in 1933. Gardner worked under Frederic C. Howe of the Consumers' Counsel. He associated with other radicals at the AAA that included Jerome Frank, Adlai Stevenson, Alger Hiss, Hope Hale Davis and Lee Pressman. Davis commented that "everyone loved" Jackson. (3)
The head of the AAA, George N. Peek claimed that the organization "was crawling with... fanatic-like... socialists and internationalists." When Chester R. Davis replaced Peek as head of the AAA he was determined to remove the left-wing elements in the organization. In February 1935, Davis insisted that Jerome Frank and Alger Hiss should be dismissed. Davis told Frank "I've had a chance to watch you and I think you are an outright revolutionary, whether you realize it or not".
Henry A. Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture was unable to protect them: "I had no doubt that Frank and Hiss were animated by the highest motives, but their lack of agricultural background exposed them to the danger of going to absurd lengths... I was convinced that from a legal point of view they had nothing to stand on and that they allowed their social preconceptions to lead them to something which was not only indefensible from a practical, agricultural point of view, but also bad law." Raymond Gram Swing, wrote in the Nation Magazine that Wallace had shown himself unwilling to stand up to big producers and agribusiness and seize "economic power from the interests in agriculture who hold it."
Rexford Tugwell claimed that Frederic C. Howe was "the subject of vitriolic attacks by the business interests" and was "pictured as a Red". (4) Davis now decided to get rid of Howe and Gardner Jackson. He later recalled: "Fred Howe was a man of high ideals and very practical sense. He was the 'turn the other cheek' type. He was a well-meaning man who permitted his organization to be loaded down with a group of people who were more concerned with stirring up discontent than they were with achieving the objectives of the act." (5)
Time Magazine reported: "In AAA's Information Division, Consumers' Counsel Frederick C. Howe and Gardner Jackson slashed about them in the name of the consumer. Slow and steady Mr. Davis was not at home among such assistants, was not prepared to go their radical lengths. He held his hand, but the time came when the ax had to fall... One murky evening last week a mimeographed sheet announced a reorganization of AAA." (6)
Hope Hale Davis worked for Howe and believed he did a great job as the head of the Consumers' Counsel and was extremely upset when he was forced to resign from the AAA in 1935. Davis commented "he had been dismissed for no other reason than that he had tried to protect the consumer, as the law required." (7) Howe told Gardner Jackson at the time: "The political state is a very difficult institution, but not as inefficient, wasteful and dishonest an institution as many people believe. And it heightens greatly my belief and confidence in democracy that I can say at the end of nearly two years working with you and twenty other men and women that there has been a high degree of efficiency and an equally high degree of devotedness and intellectual integrity as to which not even a question has been asked." (8)
After leaving the government, Jackson worked for the Research Associates, a scientific research and consultation organization headed by Frederick Cottrell. Jackson was also active in the Aid Republican Spain Committee. He was a strong opponent of the House of Un-American Activities Committee that had been established by Martin Dies in 1938. Jackson was also a member of the Committee for Cultural Freedom (CCF). Other members included John Dewey, Sidney Hook, Dashiel Hammett and Harold Weisberg. (9)
Gardner Jackson returned to the Roosevelt administration in 1941. He served as Special Assistant to Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard and Under Secretary Paul H. Appleby. His principal assignment was with the Farm Security Administration. Although on the left, Jackson was critical of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). In 1944 he was attacked in New York by Jack Lawrenson, National Maritime Union vice-president, because of an article he had written about Harry Bridges. As a result of the attack, Jackson lost the sight of his left eye.
In 1951 he was hired by Philip Murray, the head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in a "free-lance, legislative, liaison role" and was kept on by AFL-CIO in organizing department after merger. It has been claimed that "Jackson was dismissed in 1958 largely because of his vigorous campaigning to improve working conditions, particularly for agricultural workers. He continued to work for migrant labor through his associations with such groups as the National Farm Labor Union, National Farm Labor Advisory Committee, and the National Sharecroppers Fund." (10)
Gardner Jackson died on 17th April, 1965.
He "Massachusetts... has blotted out the fishmonger and the cobbler... who in the minds of multitudes will take for the moment their places with the Carpenter."
Thus did the overwrought Nation begin its obsequies over another long-lost cause. In Boston, less hysterical people than the Nation's editor went about the sorry business of disposing of the bodies of Messrs. Sacco & Vanzetti and the practical business of keeping martrydom alive with yet more litigation.
The Defense Committee denied a report that it was planning to take the embalmed bodies on an agitating tour of U. S. industrial centers. A state law required that the bodies be burned or buried before sunset the Friday following Execution Tuesday. Boston health officials extended the time to Sunday. When the brains and hearts of the corpses had been removed for examination by Harvard medicos, Massachusetts returned what remained of its prisoners to their friends, who straightway sought a public hall for a public wake. But Boston hall owners refused to lease their property. Owners of the building in which the Defense Committee had offices caused a stout joist to be nailed in the building's doorway so that no coffin might be carried in. The Defense Committee had to be content with a small mortuary chapel in the Italian section of Boston. The mortician, an artist in his way, wanted to dress the bodies in dinner jackets, but the Defense Committee said no, let them lie in their plain laboring-men's Sunday best - black cloth suits, black four-in-hand ties, un- comfortable black shoes. Let the coffins be of plain mahogany draped with Red, banked with odorous Red flowers. So it was, and their neighbors saw them as they had often seen them.
First came the three leading members of the Defense Committee - Gardner Jackson, Aldino Felicani, Mary Donovan. Each kissed the brows of the dead. An uncountable crowd, pushed and prodded into line by police, shuffled stuffily after to scowl, weep or gape. Miss Donovan was arrested when she tried to insert an anti-Judge Thayer placard among the funeral flowers. She was later sentenced to a year in jail, appealed the case. Artist William Gropper of the New Masses was not admitted when he came to make bier portraits.
A windy drizzle swept in upon the two hearses and their strange following of limousines, rubberneck busses, taxicabs, shabby family cars. The foot crowd marched 40 abreast with arms linked when wide streets were reached, swelling to 5,000 strong. Many wore Red armbands, lettered "Remember - justice crucified - Aug. 23, 1927."
Police lines kept the procession from passing the State Capital house. When the motorcade drew ahead of the bedraggled marchers and vanished in the distance, mounted police charged the marchers, who had grown noisy and quarrelsome. A remnant plodded on to Forest Hills.
Back in Cambridge, incendiaries had fired five buildings. In the cemetery, another fire blazed, its smoke trailing thin and mournful from the crematorium's high smokestack. The limousines were parked there, one with its shades drawn to hide the prostration of Miss Luigia Vanzetti, Mrs. Sacco and her son Dante. Mary Donovan and Gardner Jackson of the defense committee had the hardihood to follow into the crematorium after Miss Donovan had read a last eulogy to the dead. They peered through a glassed peephole at the coffins flaming in the vault. On the rim of the surrounding natural amphitheatre, the crowd watched the wisp of smoke until nightfall.
Although Tugwell's tongue won the Brain Trust fame with the public, another, even more voluble tongue, won the Brain Trust fame in many a Washington drawing room - the tongue of Jerome Frank. That restless young Jewish lawyer - who was a brain truster to Mayor Dever's Chicago reform administration; whose early drawing room sallies were in the homes of such Midwest literary liberals as Floyd Dell, Sherwood Anderson, Harriet Munroe; whom Communist Emma Goldman calls "Jerry"; whose shrewdness won him a place in the Manhattan law firm of Chadbourne, Stanchfield & Levy; whose brilliant articles on judicial psychology led him to friendship with Felix Frankfurter - was like a can of TNT dropped into a Washington drawing room. He turned his deep burning eyes on his fellow guests and unleashed his facile tongue for the sport of bating reactionaries. Nothing did he enjoy more than predicting the swift destruction which the Administration would wreak on the established order. When he passed, Tory hearts lay beneath their starched shirt fronts palpitating and bleeding. He was the making of many a party.
As counsel to AAA he was also a thorn in the paw of sturdy George Peek, his boss. Mr. Peek protested to Secretary Wallace. In vain, for Counsel Frank had Felix Frankfurter's approval and the support of Dr. Tugwell. So Mr. Peek, instead of using his legal counselor, hired his own lawyer out of his own pocket. But Thorn Frank was too pointed for his flesh. The time came when Mr. Peek gave Mr. Wallace the choice of accepting his own resignation or Frank's. With the advice of Dr. Tugwell and the consent of the President, Mr. Wallace accepted Mr. Peek's .
At In Mr. Peek's place, Chester C. Davis took charge of AAA. "Chet" Davis is not a man of Mr. Peek's sort, not a man of Mr. Frank's. Economically he stood somewhat closer to Jerome Frank, but he was a middle-of-the-roader in economics and in disposition. In AAA's legal department Frank and his satellites, including Francis Shea, Lee Pressman, Victor Rotnem, flashed their rapiers, determined to slice the profits off processors and middlemen and present them to the farmers. In AAA's Information Division, Consumers' Counsel Frederick C. Howe and Gardner Jackson slashed about them in the name of the consumer. Slow and steady Mr. Davis was not at home among such assistants, was not prepared to go their radical lengths. He held his hand, but the time came when the ax had to fall.
One murky evening last week a mimeographed sheet announced a reorganization of AAA. Mr. Frank, who had shocked so many Tories, was shocked. He and his friends were fired without warning. Frederick Howe was demoted. The Brain Trust was so completely taken by surprise that it had no rebuttal. And Dr. Tugwell, alas, was in Florida. Only next day did the full significance of the event dawn upon Washington.
Secretary Wallace and Administrator Davis received a hundred newshawks. For an hour the two were cross-examined. They spoke with circumspection but they denied nothing. The Brain Trusters of AAA had been ousted because Messrs. Davis and Wallace had had enough of them. The action had been discussed for two months.
(2) Time Magazine (5th September, 1927)
(3) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 77
(4) Rexford Tugwell, Roosevelt's Revolution (1977) page 355
(5) Chester R. Davis, Reminiscences (1953) page 313
(6) Time Magazine (18th February, 1935)
(7) Hope Hale Davis, Great Day Coming: A Memoir of the 1930s (1994) page 77
(8) Frederic C. Howe, letter to Gardner Jackson (7th February 1935)