William Allen White

William Allen White

William Allen White was born in Emporia, Kansas, on 10th February, 1868. After graduating from the Kansas State University he became a journalist. He worked for various newspapers in Kansas before purchasing the Emporia Gazette in 1895. White edited this small-town newspaper for the next forty-nine years.

A staunch Republican, White gave his support to William McKinley (1897-1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) and William Taft (1909-1913). However, White, switched his support to Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in the last presidential election before the First World War. During the war he backed Woodrow Wilson and his policy of internationalism.

White returned to the Republicans after the war and campaigned for Herbert Hoover against Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, he did support most of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. White was an opponent of racial intolerance and played an important role in limiting the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in Kansas. White published several books, including an account of leading politicians, Masks in a Pageant (1928) and biography of Calvin Coolidge, entitled, A Puritan in Babylon (1933).

White was a supporter of intervention in the Second World War and in May 1940 he established the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. White gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News where he argued: "Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life." It was not long before White's organization had 300 chapters nationwide.

Other members of the CDAAA included Clark M. Eichelberger (National Director), Adlai Stevenson, John J. Pershing, Claude Pepper and Philip Dunne. Members of the CDAAA argued that by advocating American military materiel support of Britain was the best way to keep the United States out of the war in Europe. The CDAAA disagreed strongly with the America First Committee, the main pressure group supporting complete neutrality and non-intervention in the war.

The main concern of the CDAAA was to “Aid the Allies.” However, they also adopted several concrete goals: the sale of destroyers to Great Britain; the release by the U.S. government of Flying Fortresses, pursuit planes, and mosquito boats to Great Britain; the use of convoys to safely escort Allied supplies; and the revision of the 1935 Neutrality Actto arm U.S. ships for defense against Axis attacks.

The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies played an important role in the passing of the Lend-Lease Act on 11th March, 1941. The legislation gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers. A sum of $50 billion was appropriated by Congress for Lend-Lease. The money went to 38 different countries with Britain receiving over $31 billion.

The CDAAA refused to support military intervention in the war. William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), found this frustrating and he encouraged William Donovan and Allen W. Dulles, with the support of BSC agent, Sydney Morrell, to establish the pro-intervention Fight for Freedom (FFF) group in April 1941.

William Allen White died in Emporia on 31st January, 1944. His memoirs, The Autobiography of William Allen White, that was published after his death, won the Pulitzer Prize.

Primary Sources

(1) William Allen White, letter to Herbert Bayard Swope (17th September, 1921)

An organizer of the Ku Klux Klan was in Emporia the other day, and the men whom he invited to join his band at $10 per join turned him down. Under the leadership of Dr. J. B. Brickell and following their own judgment after hearing his story, the Emporians told him that they had no time for him. The proposition seems to be: Anti-foreigners, Anti-Catholics, Anti-Negroes.

There are, of course, bad foreigners and good ones, good Catholics and bad ones, and all kinds of Negroes. To make a case against a birthplace, a religion, or a race is wickedly un-American and cowardly. The whole trouble with the Ku Klux Klan is that it is based upon such deep foolishness that it is bound to be a menace to good government in any community. Any man fool enough to be Imperial Wizard would have power without responsibility and both without any sense. That is social dynamite.

American institutions, our courts, our legislators, our executive officers are strong enough to keep the peace and promote justice and goodwill in the community. If they are not, then the thing to do is to change these institutions and do it quickly, but always legally. For a self-constituted body of moral idiots, who would substitute the findings of the Ku Klux Klan for the processes of law to try to better conditions, would be a most un-American outrage which every good citizen should resent.

It is to the everlasting credit of Emporia that the organizer found no suckers with $10 each to squander here. Whatever Emporia may be otherwise, it believes in law and order, and absolute freedom under the Constitution for every man, no matter what birth or creed or race, to speak and meet and talk and act as a free, law-abiding citizen. The picayunish cowardice of a man who would substitute Klan rule and mob law for what our American fathers have died to establish and maintain should prove what a cheap screw outfit the Klan is.

(2) William Allen White, interviewed in the Chicago Daily News (21st May, 1940)

Here is a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America: For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of Western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life.