A Skirmish in the Saga of “Farley’s Follies”
In this photo from either 1935 or 1936, James A. Farley, campaign manager for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful 1932 presidential campaign, and the 32nd President are seen together on a dais at a formal event. (Harris & Ewing, photographer, via the Library of Congress)
Is it ever a good idea to go to war with the Postmaster General (PMG) using first day covers as a weapon? Strange as it may seem, this was an approach employed by Congressman Charles D. Millard of New York in renewing his attacks on James A. Farley, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s PMG from 1933 to 1940. The issue in question, of course, was Farley’s purchase of some full uncut sheets of stamps as they first came off the press for distribution to a favored few including FDR, creating a brouhaha that later came to be known as “Farley’s Follies.”
Figure 1 shows an August 26, 1936, Susan B. Anthony first day cover (FDC) on Millard’s official Congressional stationery from the House of Representatives, with the stamp pasted over his freef rank signature. However, the real reason for sending out this FDC is revealed by the cover’s printed cachet that indicates that this is related to an “Inquiry into the Postmaster General’s Distribution of Imperforate Stamps.”
Figure 1. August 26, 1936, Susan B. Anthony FDC on Millard’s Congressional stationery.
In fact, a four-page printed enclosure was included inside the FDC, the top portion of which is shown in Figure 2. This reproduces remarks by Rep. Millard about the scandal from February 5, 1935, as published in the Congressional Record.
Figure 2. FDC enclosure with February 5, 1935, remarks by Rep. Charles D. Millard from the Congressional Record.
It is especially interesting to note the timing of this FDC, since the first day of issue for the Susan B. Anthony stamp actually occurred more than a year and a half after Millard’s Congressional remarks. However, the date of the FDC does seem to match up with the beginning of Millard’s 1936 re-election campaign, suggesting that was his real purpose.
In the face of this, Farley seemed unperturbed. After all, in response to the criticism he had promptly arranged for special printings of full uncut sheets of the stamps in question to be made available to collectors at face value beginning March 15, 1935 — so this was no longer a current political issue. In his memoir, Farley cheerfully acknowledges his earlier mistake (he was not a stamp collector) and notes that the special issue stamps, few of which were ever used for postage, brought in nearly one and a half million dollars of extra income to the Post Office. These stamps remain favorites among collectors today.
In the meantime Farley continued his practice of sending out FDCs to favored individuals such as FDR, cabinet members, VIPs and others with whom he had a personal connection. After all, how could anyone object if Postmaster General Farley decided to write a letter to someone telling them about a new stamp on its first day of issue? These were sent using official PMG stationery with signed enclosed letters.
Figure 3. A Susan B. Anthony favor FDC from PMG Farley on official stationery.
An example for the Susan B. Anthony stamp that was sent by PMG Farley to Bernard DeVany at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in New York City is shown in Figure 3. Note that the accompanying letter in Figure 4 has the salutation “my Dear Barney” and is signed James A. Farley in his trademark green ink.
Figure 4. The letter from PMG Farley in the Figure 3 cover, signed in green ink.
While he was Postmaster General, Farley remained Chairman of the DNC as well as campaign manager for FDR’s 1936 re-election effort. A master politician, Farley presided over FDR’s great landslide victory over Alf Landon who carried only two states, leading Farley to coin the phrase “as goes Maine, so goes Vermont,” parodying the earlier aphorism that in presidential politics “as goes Maine, so goes the Nation.”
How did this work out for Millard personally? He did win re-election to his seat in the House of Representatives, but resigned less than a year later to accept a judicial position as Surrogate of Westchester County, New York. Perhaps he found that serving as a Republican in a House where the Democrats now held more than 75 percent of the seats was not so appealing after all.
What does this episode reveal about the wisdom of launching an attack on the Postmaster General using first day covers? Maybe the lesson was that it’s wise to choose the ground and weapons carefully before going into battle.
It is said that long ago in the Louisiana State Legislature a short, hot-tempered Creole who was a famed duelist challenged a fellow representative — a nearly seven-foot-tall blacksmith by trade — to a duel. The blacksmith was a friendly man who didn’t want to fight, but he was told that if he didn’t accept the challenge he would be ruined socially and politically. However, as the challenged party, the blacksmith was at liberty to choose both the location and weapons for the duel.
After thinking it over, the location he picked was in Lake Pontchartrain where the water is six feet deep, with the weapons to be sledgehammers.
Farley, James A. Behind the Ballots, Harcourt, Brace and Co.: New York, 1938, pages 258-59.
Great American Folklore, compiled by Kemp P. Battle, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1986, pages 121-22.
Editor's Note: The “1936 Political Battle Fought with FDCs” article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - to read back issues of The American Philatelist, click here and scroll down to the Back Issues section.