Arthur H. Vandenberg

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Arthur H. Vandenberg
Arthur H. Vandenberg.jpg
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 31, 1928 – April 18, 1951
Preceded by Woodbridge Nathan Ferris
Succeeded by Blair Moody
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1949
Preceded by Kenneth McKellar
Succeeded by Kenneth McKellar
Personal details
Born Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg
(1884-03-22)March 22, 1884
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Died April 18, 1951(1951-04-18) (aged 67)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Watson (desc.)
Hazel Harper Whitaker
Alma mater University of Michigan
Religion Congregationalist

Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg (March 22, 1884 – April 18, 1951) was a Republican Senator from the U.S. state of Michigan who participated in the creation of the United Nations. He is best known for leading the Republican Party from a foreign policy of isolationism to one of internationalism, and supporting the Cold War, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO.

Early life and family

Arthur Vandenberg was born to Aaron and Alpha Hendrick Vandenberg, of Dutch American heritage. He was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Vandenberg attended public schools there and studied law at the University of Michigan (1900–1901), where he was a member of Delta Upsilon. After a brief stint working in New York at Collier's magazine, he returned home in 1906 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Watson. They had three children. She died in 1917, and in 1918 Vandenberg married Hazel Whitaker. They had no children.

From 1906 to 1928, he worked as a newspaper editor and publisher at the Grand Rapids Herald. It was owned by William Alden Smith, who served as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1907 to 1919. Vandenberg as publisher made the paper highly profitable; he was well paid. Vandenberg wrote most of the editorials, calling for more Progressivism in the spirit of his hero Theodore Roosevelt. However he supported President William Howard Taft over Roosevelt in 1912[1]

He was well known for his biography Alexander Hamilton: The Greatest American.[2][3]

Vandenberg was a Mason, Shriner, Elk, and Woodman.[2]

Senate career 1928-1935

Senate portrait of Arthur H. Vandenberg

On March 31, 1928, Governor Fred W. Green appointed 44-year-old Vandenberg, a Republican, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Woodbridge Nathan Ferris, a Democrat. Green made the appointment reluctantly under considerable political pressure. Vandenberg immediately declared his intention to stand for election to both the short, unexpired term and the full six-year term.

He became the fifth journalist in the U.S. Senate.[2] Governor Green "stressed the advantage of youth as a qualification for the rough-and-tumble of life in Washington committee rooms" which was deemed an explanation for appointing Vandenberg over the aged Joseph Warren Fordney for the position.[2] "Fellow Republican publishers to whom he can look from behind his horn-rimmed glasses for encouragement in his maiden speech are Cutting of New Mexico, Capper of Kansas, La Follette of Wisconsin. Senator-publisher Carter Glass of Virginia sits across the aisle among the Democrats."[2]

In November 1928, Vandenberg was handily elected for a full term. In the Senate, he piloted into law[citation needed] the Reapportionment Act of 1929, which provided for the automatic redistricting of the House of Representatives after each national census. He was at first an ardent supporter of President Herbert Hoover but he became discouraged by Hoover's intransigence and failures in dealing with the Great Depression.

After the election of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Vandenberg went along with most of the early New Deal measures, except for the NIRA and AAA. With the exception of his amendment to the 1933 Glass–Steagall Banking Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Vandenberg failed to secure enactment of any significant legislative proposals. By the 1934 election, his own political position was precarious and lost his home district; he was still reelected by 52,443 votes.

Opposing the New Deal 1935-1939

When the new Congress convened in 1935, there were only twenty-five Republican senators, and Vandenberg was one of the most effective opponents of the second New Deal. He voted against most Roosevelt-sponsored measures, notable exceptions being the Banking Act of 1935 and the Social Security Act. He pursued a policy of what he called fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, states' rights, and reduced taxation. He felt that Roosevelt had usurped the powers of Congress, and he spoke of the dictatorship of Franklin Roosevelt. But at the 1936 Republican National Convention, Vandenberg refused to permit the party to nominate him for Vice President, anticipating Roosevelt's victory that year.[4]

As part of the conservative coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, Vandenberg helped defeat Roosevelt's plan to pack the Supreme Court. He helped defeat the Passamaquoddy Bay and Florida Canal projects, voted against the National Labor Relations Act, various New Deal tax measures, and the Hours and Wages Act.

American foreign policy

Vandenberg became a member of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1929. Starting as an internationalist, he voted in favor of United States membership on the World Court. However the war clouds gathering in Europe moved him towards isolationism. His experiences during the Nye Committee hearings on the munitions industry, of which he was the Senate co-sponsor, convinced him that entry into World War I had been a disastrous error.[5]

He supported the isolationist Neutrality Acts of the 1930s but wanted and sponsored more severe bills designed to renounce all traditional neutral "rights" and restrict and prevent any action by the President that might cause the United States to be drawn into war. He was one of the most effective of the diehard isolationists in the Senate. Except for advocating aid to Finland after the Soviet invasion of that country and urging a quid pro quo in the Far East to prevent a war with Japan over the Manchuria-China question, his position was consistently isolationist.[5]

In mid-1939 he introduced legislation nullifying the 1911 Treaty of Navigation and Commerce with Japan and urged that the administration to negotiate a new treaty with Japan recognizing the status quo with regard to Japan's occupation of Chinese territory. Instead, Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull used the resolution as a pretext for giving Japan the required six months' notice of intent to cancel the treaty, beginning the policy of putting pressure on Japan that led to the Attack on Pearl Harbor. On the day of the Pearl Harbor attack however his position changed radically. In his private papers he wrote that at Pearl Harbor isolationism died for any realist.

United Nations and internationalism 1940-1950

Vandenberg welcomes new congressman Gerald Ford to Washington DC, 1949

During World War II, Vandenberg's position on American foreign policy changed radically. Although he continued to vote with the conservative coalition against Roosevelt's domestic proposals, Vandenberg gradually abandoned his isolationism to become an architect of a bipartisan foreign policy, which he defined as a consensus developed by consultation between the President, the State Department, and congressional leaders from both parties, especially those in the Senate.

In 1943 a confidential analysis by Isaiah Berlin of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the British Foreign Office described Vandenberg as

a member of an old Dutch family and a respectable Mid Western Isolationist. A very adroit political manipulator, and expert parliamentarian and skillful debater. He has perennial presidential ambitions, and is grooming himself into a position of elder statesman. He is something of a snob, not at all Anglophobe, and is a fairly frequent visitor at the White House and the State Department. In common with the rest of his, State delegation he votes against the Administration's foreign policies, but has nothing virulent in his constitution and is anxious to convey the impression of reasonableness and moderation. He denies that he is or ever was an Isolationist, and describes himself as a Nationalist ("like Mr. Churchill").[6]

On January 10, 1945, he delivered a celebrated "speech heard round the world" in the Senate Chamber, publicly announcing his conversion from "isolationism" to "internationalism." In 1947, at the start of the Cold War, Vandenberg became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In that position, he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, including presenting the critical Vandenberg resolution.[7]

As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he asserted that "politics stops at the water's edge," and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support. Francis O. Wilcox, first chief of staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, recalls that Vandenberg's Senate career stands as a monument to bipartisanship in American foreign policy. "[H]is legacy continues. Recently, "the Senate bestowed a unique honor on the Michigan senator," voting to add his portrait to a "very select collection" in the United States Senate Reception Room.[8]

Last years

Vandenberg (left) in the Oval Office (1947)

In 1940 and 1948 Vandenberg was a "favorite son" candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. In 1950 Vandenberg announced that he had developed cancer. He died on April 18, 1951, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Grand Rapids.


The former Vandenberg Creative Arts Academy of the Grand Rapids Public Schools was named for Vandenberg.

On September 14, 2004, a portrait of Vandenberg, along with one of Senator Robert F. Wagner, was unveiled in the Senate Reception room. The new portraits joined a group of distinguished former Senators, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and Robert A. Taft. Portraits of this group of Senators, known as the "Famous Five", were unveiled on March 12, 1959. A statue dedicated to Vandenberg was unveiled in May 2005 in downtown Grand Rapids on Monroe Street north of Rosa Parks Circle.

Senator Vandenberg is memorialized in a Michigan historical marker for the Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg / Vandenberg Center in Grand Rapids[9]

Vandenberg Hall at Oakland University is named in his honor.

Two Arthur H. Vandenberg Elementary Schools are named after him in Redford and Southfield, Michigan.

Noteworthy family members

Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr. (1907—1968), the Senator's son, worked for the Senator for more than a decade. In 1952 President Eisenhower appointed him Appointments Secretary, but he took a leave of absence for health reasons before Eisenhower was inaugurated. In 1964, first press reports and then President Lyndon Johnson revealed that Vandenberg Jr. had been unable to pass a security test because of his homosexuality.

Senator Vandenberg's nephew, U.S. Air Force General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, served as Air Force Chief of Staff and Director of Central Intelligence. Vandenberg Air Force Base was named in his honor.

Senator Vandenberg's great nephew, Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Jr., served as a Major General in the Air Force.

Committee assignments and diplomatic service


  1. Kaplan, 2015, pp 5-8
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "National Affairs: Michigan's Vandenberg". Time Magazine. April 29, 1927. Retrieved January 7, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1921
  4. Tompkins, 1970
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kaplan, 2015
  6. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  7. Gazell, 1973
  8. "Arthur Vandenberg: A Featured Biography" United States Senate Historical Office.
  9. Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg / Vandenberg Center, Michigan Historical Markers

Further reading

  • "Arthur Hendrick Vandenberg," in Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951-1955, American Council of Learned Societies, 1977
  • Gagnon, Frédérick. "Dynamic Men: Vandenberg, Fulbright, Helms and the Activity of the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Since 1945." online (2013)
  • Gazell, James A. "Arthur H. Vandenberg, Internationalism, and the United Nations." Political Science Quarterly (1973): 375-394. in JSTOR
  • Hill, Thomas Michael. "Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, the Politics of Bipartisanship, and the Origins of Anti-Soviet Consensus, 1941-1946", World Affairs 138 (Winter 1975-1976), p. 219-241.
  • Hudson, Daryl J, "Vandenberg Reconsidered: Senate Resolution 239 and US Foreign Policy," Diplomatic History (1977) 1#1
  • Kaplan, Lawrence S. The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: From Isolation to International Engagement. (University Press of Kentucky, 2015); major scholarly study excerpt
  • Tompkins, C. David. Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: the evolution of a modern Republican, 1884-1945 (Michigan State University Press, 1970)

Primary sources

  • Vandenberg Jr, Arthur H. The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg (Boston, 1952).

Published works

External links