#MIHistory – April 18: Death of a U.S. Senator

Former U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenburg of Grand Rapids died on this day in 1951. Vandenberg, the former editor of the Grand Rapids Herald, came to Washington as an isolationist and opposed to several of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal measures, but became a staunch supporter of internationalism following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

A Republican, Vandenburg was also a supporter of President Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive reforms, and wrote editorials in their favor. Unlike T. Roosevelt, however, he wanted the U.S. to stay out of foreign conflicts.

When Michigan’s U.S. Senator Nathan Ferris, a Democrat, died in office in 1928, Gov. Fred Green appointed Vandenburg to take his place. He was elected by the people of Michigan later that year, and would go on to serve in the Senate until 1951. During that time, he served as the Senate’s president pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1947-1949.

As the Great Depression gripped the U.S., Vandenburg initially favored President F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. But by 1935, Vandenburg had turned against the New Deal, only supporting the Social Security Act and Banking Act of 1935, which established the FDIC. He turned down the Republican nomination for vice president in 1936, anticipating that Roosevelt would win another term in office.

A member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee starting in 1929, he quickly became an isolationist as it appeared the rest of the world was heading for another major conflict. That changed radically on the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and in his notes, he wrote that the attack killed off isolationism for any realist.

By the time World War II ended, Vandenburg was convinced that America had to take a leading role on the world stage. He was a staunch supporter of the Truman Doctrine opposing the Soviet Union, the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II and the establishment of NATO.

In the late 1940s, some people were pushing Vandenburg to run for president. However, he announced that he had developed cancer in 1950, and he died the following year.

Arthur Vandenburg

Michigan’s U.S. Senator, Arthur Vandenburg

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