Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish, the son of Hamilton Fish II, was born in Garrison, Putnam County, on 7th December, 1888. Fish came from a political family. His father was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1874 to 1896 and his grandfather, Hamilton Fish, was United States Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant.
Fish studied history and government at Harvard University. A talented footballer player, the 6 feet 4 inches, Fish was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. After graduating in 1909 he declined the offer to teach history at the college and instead took a job in a New York City insurance office. Fish joined the Progressive Party and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1914.
On the outbreak of the First World War Fish became a captain in the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, a unit made up of African American enlisted men. In December 1917, his regiment arrived on the Western Front. The regiment quickly built up a reputation as excellent soldiers and were nicknamed the Hell Fighters by the German Army. The 369th were the first Allied regiment to break through the German lines to reach the Rhine. During 191 days of fighting, the regiment did not have a man captured; nor did it lose an inch of ground by retreating. The military leaders in France were so impressed with the way they fought at the Battle of Maison-en-Champagne that they gave the regiment the Croix de Guerre medal. Fish was discharged as a major on 14th May 1919.
Fish now joined the Republican Party and in 1920 was elected to the 66th Congress. He was a strong opponent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. Fish also became one of the leaders of the anti-communist movement in the United States. In 1931 he described communism as "the most important, the most vital, the most far-reaching, and the most dangerous issue in the world" and believed that there was extensive communist influence in the country. He established the Fish Committee which undertook extensive investigations of people and organizations suspected of being involved with or supporting communist activities.
Fish also became a supporter of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Government in Germany. He hoped that the German Army would invade the Soviet Union and therefore destroy international communism. On 14th August, 1939, Fish met with Joachim Ribbentrop in Norway and made a public statement that Hitler had "just" territory claims in Europe. On his return to the United States, Fish used his office to distribute copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When he was accused of antisemitism, he replied, "It doesn't bother me any. There's been too much Jewism going around anyway."
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Fish joined the America First Committee (AFC) other members included Robert E. Wood, John T. Flynn, Charles A. Lindbergh, Burton K. Wheeler, Robert R. McCormick, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Amos Pinchot, Harry Elmer Barnes and Gerald Nye. The AFC soon became the most powerful isolationist group in the United States. The AFC had four main principles: (1) The United States must build an impregnable defense for America; (2) No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America; (3) American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European War; (4) "Aid short of war" weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.
Fish later told Studs Terkel: "I'd led the fight for three years against Roosevelt getting us into war. I was on the radio every ten days.... That is the greatest thing I did do in my life.... We would have been fighting those Germans, plus probably the Russians, because they made a deal with them. Every American family owes an obligation to me because we would have lost a million or two million killed. That's the biggest thing I ever did, and nobody can take it away from me."
Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940 and appointed William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention."
In the autumn of 1940, two BSC agents, Sanford Griffith and Francis Adams Henson were given the task of helping to defeat Fish in the Congress elections. Christopher T. Emmet, who worked for Griffith, commented: If we can defeat Fish, who has been considered invincible for twenty years, we will put the fear of God into every isolationist senator and congressman in the country. Fish was the ranking Republican Party on the House Rules Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was considered a dangerous politician. The Nonpartisan Committee to Defeat Hamilton Fish shared the same office as Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Henson contacted Ernest Cuneo and suggested that he used his friends, Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, to attack Fish in the press. On 21st October, 1940, Pearson published an article suggesting that Nazis were subsidizing Fish through inflated rents they were supposedly paying him for property. Fish replied that: "Drew Pearson, in my opinion, is the most contemptible, dishonest, and dishonorable smear propagandist in America and by inference the most colossal liar in the nation." Despite this smear campaign, Fish won the election.
William Stephenson was very concerned with the growth of the American First Committee. By the spring of 1941, the British Security Coordination (BSC) estimated that there were 700 chapters and nearly a million members of isolationist groups. Leading isolationists were monitored, targeted and harassed. Following a speech by Hamilton Fish, a member of a group set-up by the BSC, the Fight for Freedom, delivered him a card which said, "Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty" and photographs were taken and sent to newspapers.
Hadley Cantril, a member of the faculty of Princeton University Department of Psychology, had used a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to establish the Office of Public Opinion Research. A supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and intervention in the Second World War he was also an agent for the British Security Coordination and did work for the anti-isolationist group, Fight for Freedom. Cantril was of the opinion that Roosevelt needed "an improving body of public opinion to sustain him in each measure of assistance to Britain and the USSR." Cantril was also an advisor to George H. Gallup and worked closely with David Ogilvy, who was employed by Gallup and was also an agent for BSC.
Another BSC agent, Sanford Griffith, established a company Market Analysts Incorporated and was initially commissioned to carry out polls for the anti-isolationist Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Griffith's assistant, Francis Adams Henson, a long time activist against the Nazi Germany government, later recalled: "My job was to use the results of our polls, taken among their constituents, to convince on-the-fence Congressmen and Senators that they should favor more aid to Britain."
As Richard W. Steele has pointed out: "public opinion polls had become a political weapon that could be used to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters." William Stephenson later admitted: "Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions were to steer opinion toward the support of Britain and the war... Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll."
The main target of these polls concerned the political views of leading politicians opposed to Lend-Lease. This included Hamilton Fish. In February 1941, a poll of Fish's constituents said that 70 percent of them favored the passage of Lend-Lease. James H. Causey, president of the Foundation for the Advancement of Social Sciences, was highly suspicious of this poll and called for a congressional investigation.
During the Lend-Lease debate Vandenberg announced on the floor of the Senate that he had finally decided to support the loan. He warned his colleagues: "If we do not lead some other great and powerful nation will capitalize our failure and we shall pay the price of our default." Richard N. Gardner, the author of Sterling Dollar Diplomacy in Current Perspective (1980), has argued that Vandenberg's speech was the "turning point in the Senate Debate" with sixteen other Republicans voting in favour of the bill.
The American First Committee was dissolved four days after the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941. Fish later recalled: "Franklin Roosevelt took us into a war without telling the people anything about it. He served an ultimatum which we knew nothing about. We were forced into the war. It was the biggest cover-up ever perpetrated in the United States of America. But in 1941, December 8, the day after the Japanese. I made the first speech ever made in the halls of Congress over the radio. I'd been speaking every week to keep us out of war. The day after the attack, as ranking member of the rules committee, it was my duty to speak first. I damned the Japs and upheld Roosevelt's day of infamy. I called on all noninterventionists to go into the army until we defeated the Japs. For fifteen minutes I talked to twenty-five million people. People told me they cried after. I made the only speech because I took up the whole time allotted."
Fish's previously pro-Nazi views made him unpopular with the American public. In 1944 Sanford Griffith and Francis Adams Henson made another attempt to defeat Fish. Griffith sent out another memo: "Whenever Fish pushes into the news provide the Press with data showing Fish up as out of step with his constituents. Pin on the pro-Nazi and obstructionist labels. Cooperate with the Administration and hostile colleagues to assure their ganging up on Fish whenever he obstructs." This time they were successful and Fish was defeated by the liberal politician, Augustus W. Bennet. Fish said in his election-night concession speech that "my defeat should be largely credited to Communistic and Red forces from New York City backed by a large slush fund probably exceeding $250,000."
In 1958 Fish founded the Order of Lafayette, a patriotic organization to honor those men who fought in France in the First World War and the Second World War. He also wrote an autobiography, Hamilton Fish: Memoir of an American Patriot (1991).
Hamilton Stuyvesant Fish died in Cold Spring on 18th January, 1991.
Franklin Roosevelt took us into a war without telling the people anything about it. He served an ultimatum which we knew nothing about. We were forced into the war. It was the biggest cover-up ever perpetrated in the United States of America. But in 1941, December 8, the day after the Japanese. I made the first speech ever made in the halls of Congress over the radio. I'd been speaking every week to keep us out of war. The day after the attack, as ranking member of the rules committee, it was my duty to speak first. I damned the Japs and upheld Roosevelt's day of infamy. I called on all noninterventionists to go into the army until we defeated the Japs. For fifteen minutes I talked to twenty-five million people. People told me they cried after. I made the only speech because I took up the whole time allotted.
I'd led the fight for three years against Roosevelt getting us into war. I was on the radio every ten days. I stopped him until he issued this ultimatum. That is the greatest thing I did do in my life. He would have gotten us into the war six months or a year before Pearl Harbor. We would have been fighting those Germans, plus probably the Russians, because they made a deal with them. Every American family owes an obligation to me because we would have lost a million or two million killed. That's the biggest thing I ever did, and nobody can take it away from me.
Russia is our enemy and always will be because of jealousy of power. They wouldn't think one minute about pressing the button to kill one hundred million Americans.