Dakota Datebook

Gerald Nye, America Firster

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Most people are aware that today marks the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but few North Dakotans likely recall the epic political blunder that Senator Gerald Nye also made on that day.

North Dakota Senator Gerald Nye was born in Hortonville, Wisconsin, in 1892. He worked for several newspapers in Wisconsin and Iowa before moving to North Dakota in 1915. There, he served as publisher of the Billings County Pioneer and as editor and publisher of the Griggs County Sentinel-Courier. Nye ran for election to the Senate in 1924, but lost. The following year, however, he was appointed to fill the vacant Senate seat caused by the death of Edwin Ladd. He would serve as Senator for the next twenty years.

While in the Senate, Nye became known for his outspoken opinions, and making enemies quickly became his pastime. A staunch progressive, he criticized Andrew Mellon’s tax policies for favoring the rich, Herbert Hoover’s conservative economic policies, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal for not going far enough, and the oil and munitions industries for seeking profits by inciting the U.S. to enter the war in Europe.

Although not a pacifist, his involvement on the Munitions Investigating Committee led him to become an isolationist. The committee had found a strong link between the government’s decision to enter World War I and lobbying by the munitions industry. Because of this economic scandal, and the immense suffering the war had wrought, Nye vehemently opposed U.S. entry into World War II. He became the “most active member of the America First Committee in the Senate.” In 1940, Nye argued that “the European war was not worthy of the sacrifice of one American mule, much less one American son.”

On December 7th, 1941, Nye was scheduled to give an America First speech in Pittsburgh. While waiting to go on stage, the Senator was given a scrap of paper with a scribbled message that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. “Stricken, Nye fumbled and paused, then muttered, ‘I can’t somehow believe this…’ before going on…to deliver his anti-war…” speech anyway. The following day, Nye joined the rest of the Senate in voting for America’s entry into World War II.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job





This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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