Majority of James M. Beck Papers Now Available Online

We are pleased to announce the completion of another digitization project. The bulk of the papers of James M. Beck (1861-1936), who enjoyed a long career as a lawyer, author, public speaker, Solicitor General, and U.S. Congressman, are now available online through the finding aid for collection MC007. Beck served as Solicitor General from 1921-1925 and represented the Philadelphia region as a Republican Congressman from 1927-1934. Researchers interested in a variety of topics will find this collection useful. For those interested in American politics and foreign policy during Beck’s life, the collection holds many items relating to World War I and Beck’s fights against Prohibition and the New Deal. It also reflects Beck’s personal interests in American history and Shakespeare.

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James M. Beck. Photo from James M. Beck Papers (MC007), Box 11, Folder 8.

One subject the collection focuses upon is World War I. Beck’s writings on World War I were widely read. Beck defended America many times against the claims that initial neutrality in the European conflict was rooted in nationalist selfishness: “If the bones of your sons are now buried in France there are the bones of many a brave American boy who, without the protection of his flag … have gone and given their young lives as a willing sacrifice. Therefore, I say to you, men of England, if there are pinpricks, do not misjudge the American people, who have done what they did under the most trying and delicate circumstances…” (Beck, “America and the Allies,” July 5, 1916, p. 19) Later, Beck agreed that conditions had made it necessary for the United States to enter the war, but warned that the outcome of the hostilities of the era would “leave a heritage of hatred among nations” and that someday in the not too distant future Germany and Japan might join forces to fight America and its allies. (Beck, “America and the War”) Our collection contains translations of Beck’s World War I writings and speeches in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and Greek. The correspondence he received in response, from all over the world, is also in many languages. Thus, in addition to reflecting American opinions, researchers will find perspectives from diverse nations in the collection.

Another subject the collection provides insight into is the public’s impressions of domestic policies. Beck’s stand against Prohibition earned a mixed response from his constituents, with Lillian Francis Fitch writing to Beck in 1930, “It is more than difficult for me to see how any high-minded, intelligent person can … be a ‘wet’” and C. Pardo writing to praise Beck’s efforts that same year on the grounds that Prohibition “is the work largely of … busy bodies.” Beck’s strong criticism of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which authorized United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to regulate industry in an attempt to stimulate the economy during a period of severe deflation, also resulted a variety of responses. Most letters on the subject in our collection heaped praise upon Beck for his stand, but Cable Welfair urged a more cautious response to the bill: “I am not so terribly disturbed about some of the emotional legislation passed by the last Congress. Things that are said and done when one is excited must be more or less discounted. You don’t have to get a divorce from your wife because she says you are a brute. Maybe she is mistaken; or maybe you are, but can improve.”

A final substantial component of the collection concerns Beck’s private intellectual pursuits. Beck was particularly fond of Shakespeare. The collection includes his correspondence with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Joseph Quincy Adams, and materials related to his membership and presidency in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Society. Researchers will also note that Beck frequently quoted Shakespeare in his speeches. Beck spoke to a variety of audiences on a range of topics in American history as well, and was a frequent guest speaker for the Pennsylvania Society and the Sons of the Revolution. This index to his speeches will help researchers locate these items.

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