Amos Pinchot

Amos Pinchot

Amos Pinchot was born in 1863. The son of a wealthy businessman, Pinchot studied law in New York City. In 1900 he married Gertrude Minturn. The couple had two children, Rosamund and Gifford. Pinchot held left-wing views and in 1911 helped establish the radical journal The Masses.

In 1912 Pinchot helped formed the Progressive Party. Later that year Theodore Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson became the party's candidates for the presidential election. The proposed program included women's suffrage, direct election of senators, anti-trust legislation and the prohibition of child labour. In winning 4,126,020 votes Roosevelt defeated William H. Taft, the official candidate of the Republican Party. However, he received less votes than the Democratic Party candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

Pinchot believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. This was the point of view expressed by The Masses. In July, 1917, it was claimed by the authorities that articles by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman and cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and H. J. Glintenkamp had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. The legal action that followed forced the journal to cease publication. In April, 1918, after three days of deliberation, the jury failed to agree on the guilt of the men.

The second trial was held in September, 1918. John Reed, who had recently returned from Russia, was also arrested and charged with the original defendants. This time eight of the twelve jurors voted for acquittal and the defendants walked free on October 5, 1918.

Pinchot divorced his first wife and married Ruth Pickering in 1919. The couple had two children, Mary Pinchot and Antoinette Pinchot. Regular visitors to the home included Mabel Dodge, Crystal Eastman, Max Eastman, Louis Brandeis and Harold Ickes.

In 1920 two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were accused of murdering a shoe factory payroll clerk in Braintree, Massachusetts. Pinchot and his wife were convinced that the two men were innocent and spent a great deal of time and effort trying to get them released.

Pinchot supported his friend, Robert La Follette, the the candidate of the Progressive Party in the 1924 presidential election. Although La Follette and his running partner, Burton K. Wheeler, gained support from trade unions, the Socialist Party and the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, La Follette only won one-sixth of the votes.

Pinchot worked for several years on two books, Big Business in America and The History of the Progressive Party. However, the books were not published in his lifetime.

Initially he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. However, he was opposed his attempt to control the Supreme Court. In April, 1937, Pinchot had a letter published in the New York Times where he criticised Roosevelt's style of government "which places the fate of labor, industry and agriculture in a bureaucracy controlled by one man... I am forced to conclude that... you desire the power of a dictator without the liability of the name."

Pinchot's daughter from his first marriage, Rosamund Pinchot, became an actress. Although she only appeared in one Hollywood movie, she did get parts in several French films. However, she suffered from depression and in 1938 she committed suicide. Pinchot was devastated and never fully recovered from this tragedy.

Pinchot retained his pacifist views and in September, 1940, helped to establish the America First Committee (AFC). The America First National Committee included Robert E. Wood, John T. Flynn and Charles A. Lindbergh. Supporters of the organization included Burton K. Wheeler, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Hamilton Fish 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.

The AFC influenced public opinion through publications and speeches and within a year the organization had 450 local chapters and over 800,000 members. The AFC was dissolved four days after the Japanese Air Force attacked Pearl Harbor on 7th December, 1941.

Pinchot grew increasing depressed by the progress of the Second World War and in the summer of 1942 he slit his wrists. He survived this suicide attempt but his health never recovered and spent the rest of his life in hospital.

Amos Pinchot died of pneumonia in February, 1944.