Study Guide

Claude Pepper Study Guide



Social and Political Legacy

A Political Primer

Discussion Questions

Resources: Where Can I Learn More?


Who was Claude Pepper?

Claude Pepper was a politician and a statesman who believed that the government had a responsibility to help those in need. Pepper served in the United States Senate from 1937 to 1951 and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1963 to 1989. Among his many accomplishments, he drafted the first bill to establish a minimum wage and maximum hours, introduced the first equal pay for equal work to women legislation, introduced legislation providing military aid known as Lend-Lease to Great Britain in World War II, held the first hearings on drugs in the schools, helped create the Juvenile Justice Agency, sponsored the Older Americans Act, ended mandatory retirement, and championed legislation to create the National Institutes of Health.

What did he stand for?

A lifelong liberal, Pepper devoted his life to the belief that government must assure its citizens opportunity, health care and personal security. He championed the needs of the elderly, the poor, the disenfranchised and the sick.


Claude Pepper was born to a poor, farming family in rural Alabama in 1900. At 17 he began teaching and was accepted into the University of Alabama. World War I was just ending and Pepper enrolled in the Student Army Training Corps. A disability he incurred during this army stint qualified Pepper for government sponsored education. He chose Harvard Law School. After graduating from Harvard in 1924, Pepper became a teacher in the Law School at the University of Arkansas. A year later he moved to Florida where he joined a law firm and, in 1928, began a political career as Taylor County’s representative to the Florida House. Two unsuccessful campaigns followed, but Pepper campaigned for and won a Senate seat in 1936. That same year he married Mildred Webster. During his 42-year political career Pepper won three Senate elections and 14 elections to the House of Representatives.

U.S. Congress Biographical Directory Entry for Claude Pepper –

Significant Dates


Born on September 8th on a farm near Dudleyville, Alabama


Graduated from the University of Alabama at Tuscualoosa


Graduated from Harvard Law School, moved to Arkansas to teach law at the University of Arkansas


Moved to Perry, Florida to open a law practice


Elected to the Florida House of Representatives representing Taylor County


Moved to Tallahassee, Florida to join a law practice


Married Mildred Irene Webster on December 29th


Lost first race for a U.S. Senate seat against Park Trammell


Won mid–term election to the U.S. Senate


Introduced bill to establish the first of the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Institute


Won reelection to the U.S. Senate. Served on Subcommittees for Wartime Health and Education and Foreign Relations


Drafted the first “lend–lease” legislation to lend war planes to Great Britain; enacted in 1941


Won reelection to the U.S. Senate


Campaigned for third reelection to the U.S. Senate; defeated in the Democratic Primary by George Smathers


Opened law practice in Washington, D.C., Miami, and Tallahassee, Florida


Campaigned for U.S. Senate race; defeated by Spessard Holland


Won election to the House of Representatives. Re–elected every two years until his death


Appointed to the Committee on Rules


Elected Chairman of the Select Committee on Crime


Elected Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health and Long–Term Care


Elected Chairman of the Select Committee on Aging


Mildred Pepper died on March 31


Became Chairman of the Committee on Rules


Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George Bush

Claude Pepper died in Washington D.C., on May 30

Social and Political Legacy

Senator Pepper was truly a great and a good man, and his legacy might best be summed up with the epitaph he wrote for himself. It reads simply: “He loved God and his fellow man and sought to serve both.” That’s how Senator Pepper wanted to be remembered, and that’s how I think we can best remember him.

Claude Pepper accomplished so many things. When I think about his social legacy I think about the relationships he developed with literally thousands of people. Its remarkable, to have begun in the humble way that he did and, yet, to have done so much for so many people.

When you take stock of all that he was able to accomplish, I think his true political legacy was the significant and enduring quality of his liberal philosophy. From his earliest days in office he committed himself to serve the American people. He strove to legislate policies to serve and protect people who were not able to protect themselves. As he himself said, “Only government is big enough and powerful enough and rich enough to do the things for people that they are not able to do for themselves.” And the policies he helped create continue to benefit all of us today for example, the great medical research achieved through the National Institutes of Health, and the hot meals that are served every day to frail elderly and to disabled persons in their own homes, Medicare, Medicaid, and better treatment for workers. The list goes on and on.

Of course, I hope visitors to this Center will walk away with an appreciation for Senator Peppers accomplishments, but equally important is the knowledge that integrity, honesty, and commitment to others is important in public life, and in life in general. Senator Peppers legacy is proof that achieving high goals is not limited to those who come from privileged backgrounds, and that it is possible for anyone who makes it his or her life purpose to achieve great things. 

—– Comments from Thomas J. Spulak, former Staff Director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee under Senator Pepper

Claude Pepper had an uncanny way of understanding what the goal was, and not getting disappointed when obstacles confronted him. He often would say to me that he was not a tinkerer, that he saw the big picture and was not afraid to move forward. So in spite of the caution that he heard from those around him, he moved forward and was able to achieve great good and great legislative accomplishments.

The Senator was a model public servant. He believed in government as an instrument of good for the people; he believed that government is what was good about America; that government could and should help people, that it should lift their burdens, and that it should give everyone equal opportunities and at the same time keep no one down.

Selected Highlights in Senator Pepper’s Legislative Career


Co-author of bill to establish the National Cancer Institute, the first of 13 NIH Institutes that Pepper helped establish.


Proposed a bill to provide health care to the elderly 26 years before Medicare was enacted in 1965


Proposed the first lend-lease initiative to provide aid to Great Britain during World War II


Sponsored bills to raise the minimum wage


Sponsored a bill to provide equal pay for equal work for women


Introduced a bill calling for universal health care for all Americans


Introduced a bill to establish a Federal Commission on Services for the Physically Handicapped

Sponsored a bill to amend the Constitution to provide equal rights for men and women

Introduced a bill to make the imposition of a poll tax as a condition for voting unlawful


Proposed a bill to abolish mandatory retirement at any age for federal government workers and raised from 65 to 70 the age at which nonfederal employees could be forced to retire


Sponsored a bill to abolish age discrimination in employment


Sponsored legislation to provide long-term care benefits under Medicare to chronically ill and disabled persons of all ages

Introduced a bill to provide for the establishment of ten regional centers for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease

Introduced a bill to establish a National Center for Biotechnology

Introduced a bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to establish breast cancer screening centers

Introduced a bill to amend the Social Security Act to provide comprehensive catastrophic and preventive health care


Cosponsored a bill to require cigarette labeling that stated the addictive quality of cigarettes


Introduced a bill to protect the rights of persons to due process of law and equal protection of the laws in guardianship proceedings

State and U.S. Congressional Committees Served On

Florida House of Representatives Committees


Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments

Committee on Banks and Banking

Committee on Finance and Taxation

Committee on Game

Committee on Administrative Reports

Committee on Radio

Judiciary “C” Committee

Committee on Lumber and Naval Stores

Committee on Public Amusements

U.S. Senate Committees


Committee on Military Affairs

Committee on Commerce

Committee on Education and Labor

Committee on Interoceanic Canals

Committee on Printing


Committee on Foreign Relations


Committee on Patents (chairman, 1945-1946)


Special Committee to Investigate the Old Age Pension System


Special Committees: Study and Survey Problems of Small Business Enterprises

Post-War Economic Policy and Planning


Education and Labor Subcommittee: Wartime Health and Education


Committee on Foreign Trade for Small Business


Special Committee: Organization of Congress


Special Committee: Investigate the National Defense Program

Committee on Agriculture and Forestry


Committee on Labor and Public Welfare


Committee on the District of Columbia

U.S. House of Representatives Committees


Committee on Banking and Currency


Unofficial Steering Committee of House Democrats to Oppose an Increase in Interest Rates on Long-Term Government Bonds


Committee on Rules (Chairman, 1983-1989)


Select Committee on Adam Clayton Powell


Committee on Internal Security


Select Committee on Crime (Chairman)


Select Committee on Aging (Chairman, 1977-1982)

Chairman, Subcommittee on Health and Long-Term Care


Democratic Party appointee to the National Commission on Social Security


Committee on Democratic Steering and Policy


Chairman, Committee on Rules


Rules Subcommittee: Rules of the House

Rules Subcommittee: The Legislative Process

Select Committee on Aging: Subcommittee on Health and Long-Term Care

A Political Primer

Checks and Balances: The Three Branches of Government

Legislative – The legislative branch makes the laws.

Executive – The executive branch carries out the laws.

Judicial – The judicial branch interprets laws.

How it works: State Government

Each state has its own legislative, executive branches. The legislative branch convenes at the State House, located in each states capitol, where Senators and Representatives draft bills and pass laws that are in effect for that state only. At the state level, Senators and Representatives may represent a small area sometimes as small as a neighborhood. A States Executive branch includes its Governor and Lieutenant Governor. The judicial branch is made up of judges serving in hundreds of circuit and other regional courts.

How it works: Federal Government

The Federal Government of the United States has its own legislative, executive and judicial branches. The legislative branch includes the House of Representatives and the Senate, together called Congress. It convenes at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., where Senators and Representatives draft bills and pass laws that are in effect for the entire country. The executive branch includes the President, Vice President, and Cabinet. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court and a system of Federal Courts.

Inside Capitol Hill: The United State Congress

The powers of Congress

Article I of the Constitution of the United States establishes the powers granted to Congress. These include the power to make all laws, declare war, regulate commerce, and support and regulate an army and navy.

How bills become laws

A bill can originate in either Congressional body except for spending bills which must originate in the House. After a bill is proposed, it is reviewed by a committee or committees that must approve it before it is taken to the entire house for a vote. There are 19 standing committees in the House and 16 in the Senate, each focused on a special topic such as International Relations or Energy and Natural Resources.

When a bill successfully wins a majority of votes in both houses it is sent to the President for signature. A bill approved by the President becomes a law. Vetoed bills are resubmitted to Congress, which can overturn the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each house.

How to become a member of Congress

Voters in each state elect two senators and one representative for every 500,000 residents to represent their constitutional interests as members of Congress.

Originally, anyone wishing to run for office could stand on a street corner, attract a crowd, and argue their point of view in the hopes of getting elected. Over time, campaigning has evolved into an expensive and sophisticated activity. Various interest groups, political action committees, political parties, individuals, and others contribute to fund vast media campaigns intended to influence voters. Campaign financing reform is often discussed but rarely enacted.

A candidate’s first step is to win a party run-off or “primary” if there is more than one candidate from that party running for a certain office. Next, candidates from different political parties meet in the final election. Senators and Representatives are elected by direct, popular vote: the candidate who wins the most votes wins the race.

Terms of office

Ready to run for office? Representatives must be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state that elects them. Representatives serve two-year terms. Senators must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and a resident of the state that elects them. Senators serve six-year terms.

Discussion Questions

Can politicians help people?

Claude Pepper believed that politics was a way to improve peoples lives. For example, he fought to protect the social security of senior citizens. He introduced bills to provide health care to everyone. Do you think that politics can be used this way? Has it been?

What is a liberal?

Senator Pepper was associated with the liberal philosophy his entire life. What does it mean to be a liberal? Why has this philosophy been challenged by its critics? Does the distinction between a liberal and a conservative politician continue to be relevant in todays political climate?

If Claude Pepper were alive today, what issues would he be involved with?

Senator Pepper fought many battles and was involved in many causes. What issues today require that same dedication? What would you fight for?

Can one person have an important impact on the world?

Claude Pepper was not the most famous person of his time, yet his energy and creativity led to important accomplishments. He helped save Great Britain from the Nazis in World War II, for example, by his Lend-Lease legislation. Can you think of other people, perhaps from your own life, who made a major impact but aren’t really famous?

What is political courage?

Claude Pepper never wavered in his beliefs, even if they weren’t popular. Have you ever held a belief that you knew was right but was unpopular? How did it feel? Were you right to stand up for your beliefs?

Resources: Where Can I Learn More?

Autobiography and Books

Pepper, Claude. Ask Claude Pepper. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1984.

Pepper, Claude Denson, with Hays Gorey. Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

Recommended Speeches


The Democratic Party, Marianna, Florida


First Senate speech, Relief Appropriations


Anti-Lynching Bill


A Seven-Point Program for National Defense


“Lest We Forget, Lest We Forget,” Jewish National Home in Palestine


A Plea for Democracy – The Anti-Poll Tax Bill


Equal Rights for Men and Women


World Peace


Research for Health


American Policy for Peace and a New World


The Marshall Plan


“Where is the Republican Party’s Foreign Policy Taking the United States?”


“The War in Korea”


FDR Centennial


Bicentennial of the Constitution


Medicare Long-Term Health Care Catastrophic Protection Act


“Claude Denson Pepper: An American Original.” Peter S. Rosen Producer/Director. Presented by American Savings of Florida. 1989. Available in the Claude Pepper Library (AV Number 239).

“Claude Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century.” Produced by the Claude Pepper Foundation. Hosted by Ed Asner. 1998. Available in the Claude Pepper Library (AV Number 465).

“The Pepper Legacy.” Florida Crossroads Series #205. Produced by Florida Public Television. 1989. Available in the Claude Pepper Library (AV Number 234).

Theses and Papers

Hutto, Richard D. “Political Feud in the Palmettos: A Chronology and Analysis of the 1950 Florida Senatorial Campaign.” 1968. 98p. (Research Paper).

Malafronte, Anthony F. “Claude Pepper: Florida Maverick, the 1950 Florida Senatorial Primary.” Master’s Thesis. Coral Gables: University of Miami, 1964. 140p.

Moore, John Lovell, Jr. “Good Reason, Bad Reason, No Reason at All, A Study of Florida Politics, with Special Reference to the Pepper-Smathers Primary.” Senior Honors Thesis, Class of 1951. Awarded the James Gordon Bennett Prize, June 5, 1951.

Patterson, Joseph A. “War” and “Peace.” Claude Pepper’s Foreign Policy. Paper submitted to the Department of History, Hobart College, May 25, 1947.

Rhodes, Robert Lee, Jr. “Claude Denson Pepper, His Role in Foreign Policy.” Honors Paper submitted to the Department of History, Emory University, 1969.

Russell, Dayton L. “The Claude Pepper Story.” Final paper for the New College-External Degree Program, University of Alabama, 1990.

Stoesen, Alexander Rudolph. “The Senatorial Career of Claude D. Pepper.” Thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History. Chapel Hill, 1964.

Stoesen, Alexander Rudolph. “Spokesman or Seer, Claude Pepper and New Deal Foreign Policy.” Read at the Southern Historical Association Meeting, Richmond, Virginia. 1965.

Archives and Collected Papers

Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL. Correspondence in Virginia Foster Durr papers 1904-1983; and Clifford J. Durr papers, 1899-1976.

Columbia University, Oral History Project, New York, NY. Oral History: 61 pages. In Social Security.

Florida Bureau of Archives and Records Management Tallahassee, FL. Correspondence in D. Robert Graham papers 1963-1968. Finding aid.

Florida State University, Claude Pepper Library, Tallahassee, FL. Papers: 1915-1993. Includes the official and personal papers, photographs, recordings, books, and memorabilia from Senate and House careers, and the personal papers, photographs, paintings, and recordings of his wife Mildred.

University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections. Fayetteville, AR Papers: Correspondence in Hattie Caraway papers, cat 1884-1950. Finding aid.

University of Florida, P.K. Yonge Library, Gainesville, FL. Papers: 1948-1958. 1 foot. Scrapbooks of clippings relating to Pepper in the period 1948-1952, and to his unsuccessful 1958 primary campaign against Spessard L. Holland. Also correspondence in Florida Bandmaster’s Association records, 1921-1974. Finding aid.

University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA. Correspondence in Calvin Benham Baldwin papers, 1933-1975. Finding aid.

University of Maryland McKeldin Library, College Park, MD. Correspondence in Cigar Makers International Union of America records, 1864-1974. Finding aid.

University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library. Ann Arbor, MI. Papers: Correspondence in Frank Murphy papers, 1908-1949. Finding aid.

University of Virginia. Alderman Library, Charlottesville, VA. Correspondence in Francis Pickens Miller papers, 1885-1971. Finding aid.

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Political Cartoon Lesson Plan 

Senate Champion of the Allied Cause: Florida’s Claude Pepper as Depicted in Political Cartoons, 1940-1941

Leon County Teacher Inservice Lesson Plan

Submitted by Peter A. Cowdrey, Jr., Leon High School, (850) 488-1971, Ext. 1170,

About This Lesson

This lesson plan addresses Senator Claude Pepper’s role as this country’s leading senatorial advocate for the Allied cause during 1940 and 1941, before the U. S. entry into World War II. It focuses on several representative political cartoons published in U. S. newspapers during those years, copies of which are included below as transparencies for classroom use. It is designed for high school U. S. and world history classes, but can be modified for use in other settings.

This 50-minute program is designed to incorporate a novel approach (political cartoons) to acquaint students with Claude Pepper’s important role as a U. S. Senator in sponsoring crucial American assistance to hard pressed European democracies during 1940 and 1941, and in stoutly opposing Adolf Hitler during those same years. Pepper’s task during that era of strong Isolationism was not an easy one, and the cartoons selected here represent both sides of a once very heated and divisive issue.

Bibliography: Primary Sources

Pepper, Claude Denson. “Diary.” Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

_____. “Address of Senator Claude Pepper of Florida at Helena, Montana June 4, 1941.” 203 B, Box 11, Folder 1. Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

_____. Address of Senator Claude Pepper of Florida over Columbia Broadcasting System, “America’s Danger is America’s Opportunity,” June 28, 1941, Washington, D. C. under Auspices of Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. 5203 B, Box 3A, Folder 4, Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

Photograph of President Roosevelt and Senator Claude Pepper on the rear platform of the president’s special train car in Miami, Florida, 1937, Photograph B (1620), Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

Political Cartoons. “Keeping in Style” by Parrish, Chicago Tribune, 1940, Memorabilia Z 59; “Not the Way to Build a Two-Ocean Navy” by Brown, 1940, Memorabilia Z 59; “Untitled” (A winged President Roosevelt in the guise of peacemaker) by Parrish, Chicago Tribune, 1940, Memorabilia Z 1028; “A Slight Case of Indigestion” by Brudon, June 1941, Memorabilia Z 55; “Defense Stew” May 8, 1941, Memorabilia Z 1030; “Untitled” (Three Men on a Horse) by Brudon, no date, Memorabilia Z 54, Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.

Bibliography: Secondary Sources:

Bailey, Thomas A. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. Third Ed. Boston: D. C. Heath and Co., 1966.

Block, Maxine, ed. Current Biography: Who’s News and Why-1941. New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1941.

Lash, Joseph P. Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941: The Partnership that Saved the West. New York: W. W. Norton, Inc., 1976.

Magnuson, Ed. “Nation: National Champion of the Elderly.” Time. April 25, 1983, 21-29.

Morison, Samuel Eliot and Henry Steele comma ger. The Growth of the American Republic. Two volumes. Volume Two. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950.

Pepper, Claude Denson with Hays Gorey. Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1987.

[Robinson, Erik]. Political Cartooning in Florida, 1901-1987. Tallahassee, Florida: Museum of Florida History, Florida Department of State, 1987.

Note: Grateful appreciation is expressed to Ms. Lisa Maynard of the Claude Pepper Foundation, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida; to Mr. Burt Altman and Mr. John Nemmers of the Claude Pepper Library, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida; and to Mr. Erik Robinson of the Museum of Florida History, Florida Department of State, Tallahassee, Florida for their valuable assistance to me in the preparation of this lesson plan.

Political Cartoons: An Introduction

Political cartoons are a time-tested method of expressing support for or opposition to a person, a philosophy, or an idea. As defined by Erik Robinson of the Museum of Florida History, these cartoons are “‘eyewitnesses to history and tell us what people saw and felt about events at the time they occurred” (Robinson, 1).

When we open our daily newspapers and examine any of the political cartoons contained in them, we are reading a form of political commentary that goes back 500 years. From the time of the Reformation up through the American and French Revolutions and right through to our own day, political cartoons have played a large role in shaping public opinion.

As artists, the cartoonists often draw their human subjects in a way that somewhat exaggerates their features. This is called caricature, and its use enables the cartoonist to depict political leaders in somewhat humorous settings. In order for caricature to work well, the reader must be able to recognize the person or persons being portrayed in the cartoon. Sometimes the cartoonists place nametags beside or on the persons they draw in order to make sure that the reader understands the point that the artist is trying to make.

Since political cartoons are drawings that rely on a minimum of written words, cartoonists frequently use symbolism, employing easily recognized images to enable readers to form powerful conclusions. We will see several examples of symbolism in today’s program, starting with a political cartoon drawn by Benjamin Franklin more than two hundred years ago.

Transparency One: “Join, or Die”

Our first transparency is a political cartoon drawn in 1754 by Benjamin Franklin. It was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in support of the Albany Congress, whose purpose was to present a united English colonial front against the French in North America at the outbreak of the French and Indian War. In this cartoon, entitled “Join, or Die,” Franklin is making the point that if England’s American colonies (labeled with initials) do not stand together against the French, they will be no more effective than small pieces of a chopped up (and hence useless) snake. It is only if they act together that they can prevail. The words are very few but powerful: “Join, or Die.”

Historian Thomas A. Bailey has termed this cartoon “the most famous cartoon of the colonial era” (Bailey, 56). Colonial cooperation was indeed needed during the French and Indian War, and was even more necessary later during the American Revolution.

The point of Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 political cartoon was well made, and the colonial cooperation that it helped to foster led eventually to the creation of the United States of America.

The rest of the political cartoons in this program will focus on the early 1940s and will deal with how political cartoonists depicted Claude Pepper with respect to the Senator’s loyalty to President Roosevelt, his support of Great Britain, and his opposition to Nazi Germany.

Before we see the cartoons, however, we turn first to a historic photograph taken in Miami, Florida in 1937.

Transparency Two: Photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Senator Claude Pepper in Miami, Florida, 1937.

This photograph shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Florida Senator Claude Pepper arriving by train to Miami on a cool November day in 1937. It shows President Roosevelt smiling in his customary way and waving to the crowd. To his left stands Senator Claude Pepper, also smiling.

This photo is valuable for several reasons:

It shows President Roosevelt and Senator Pepper in a harmonious setting that Pepper believed would be a valuable vote getter in his upcoming reelection campaign.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrat, had first been elected to the presidency in 1932. From the beginning of his first term, he had worked to combat the Great Depression through imaginative programs summed up in what he termed his “New Deal” policies. In 1937 when this picture was taken, Roosevelt had already been elected to his second presidential term, and had enjoyed much support from Senator Pepper.

Claude Pepper, Democrat, had first won election to the U. S. Senate in 1936 following the unexpected death of Florida Senator Duncan U. Fletcher that year. This had enabled Pepper to serve for the unexpired portion of Senator Fletcher’s term, which meant that he would have to stand for reelection again in 1938. During his first two years, Pepper had demonstrated strong support of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies and had been invited by the president to accompany him as a guest on the presidential train to Florida in November 1937 (Claude Pepper with Hays Gorey, 66). In fact, President Roosevelt’s support did help Senator Pepper to be reelected for a six-year term in 1938, and the senator continued to be a strong supporter of President Roosevelt until the president’s death in 1945.

Although President Roosevelt was a partially paralyzed victim of polio who needed help in order to stand, he was typically photographed as healthy and able-bodied, as in this example. Most Americans did not know of the president’s paralysis, and political cartoonists of that era portrayed him as fully able-bodied.

The photograph shows how both men actually looked. By seeing their picture here, we may be able to recognize them in the political cartoons that follow.

Transparency Three: “Keeping in Style”

During the late 1930s America’s principal international concern was with the rise of dictatorships in Europe. Mussolini had come to power in Italy, Stalin ruled Russia, Hitler ruled Germany, and Franco-after a bitter and highly publicized civil war-controlled Spain.

Most Americans in this period were Isolationists. That is, they believed that Europe should work out its own problems without American involvement. World War I had left many Americans bitter and disillusioned about international involvement, and “strict neutrality” laws were passed in the Congress in order to prevent the United States from taking sides in any new European wars. Meanwhile, as the 1930s wore on, President Roosevelt began making necessary preparations in case the United States had to go to war. Also, as the democracies in Europe saw Hitler gaining more power and seizing more territory, Roosevelt came to oppose Isolationism as a misguided policy. Senator and Mrs. Pepper, who traveled to Europe in 1939, saw first-hand the danger that Hitler and Mussolini represented to the European democracies and to U. S. foreign policy. Senator Pepper remained a stalwart and outspoken opponent of Isolationism in speeches on the floor of the U. S. Senate and from his vantage point as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This political cartoon from 1940 appeared in the Chicago Tribune, a strongly Isolationist newspaper. It accuses Pepper of a double standard, criticizing in Europe what he was working to create in the United States, and it is filled with symbolism.

Senator Pepper, identified by his name tag in the upper left and caricatured as a short man in a fit of anger, is shown angrily denouncing European dictators, symbolized by the Nazi-looking military figure in the upper right.

In the bottom of the cartoon we see Claude Pepper represented as a tailor so short he must stand on a stool to measure the President for a new set of clothes. The president has discarded his “out-moded” suit coat on the floor. It is marked “Two Term Tradition” and symbolizes Roosevelt’s willingness to stand for reelection to a third term, something no American president had ever done before. Meanwhile, Senator Pepper is shown arguing that the president needs a suit “just like they’re wearing in Europe,” and is getting ready to cut the president’s new suit from bolts of cloth marked “Conscription of Everything,” “Seizure of Emergency Powers,” and “Dictatorship.” The cartoonist is using powerful symbolism to imply that President Roosevelt is taking on the powers of the dictator in the upper right.

Transparency Four: “[Untitled] A Winged President Roosevelt in the Guise of a Peacemaker”

This political cartoon, like the one we just saw, was drawn by Parrish for the Chicago Tribune. In this one, also from 1940, President Roosevelt is depicted as a peacemaker. At first glance, he looks harmless enough in his heavenly wings, holding an olive branch and carrying a caged dove of peace.

When we look closer we see the wings are somewhat battered and losing their feathers. His clothes are in tatters, especially at the bottom, probably from walking through “Meddling in Europe,” “Meddling in Asia,” “Sword Rattling,” “Quarantine Speech (of 1937),” and other non-peaceful pursuits. In the back, Claude Pepper is represented as waving a threatening sword. Meanwhile, the caged dove of peace is visibly disturbed by all of the violent references on the floor and protests continuously.

This cartoon is, like the last one, hostile to both President Roosevelt and Senator Pepper. Parrish was an outspoken critic of Roosevelt’s international policies and blamed Claude Pepper for helping to bring those policies about.

As we will see, the next political cartoon also presents President Roosevelt and Senator Pepper in an unfavorable light, but for a different reason.

Transparency Five: “Not the Way to Build a Two-Ocean Navy”

Here the cartoonist has represented Senator Pepper as towing a fleet of U. S. Navy ships out into the Atlantic toward war-torn England across the sea in the upper right.

In this instance, the cartoonist has identified Senator Pepper by his given name tag. Attached to his right side is the note, “Proposed Sale of Destroyers to England.” This is a reference to President Roosevelt’s September 2, 1940 executive decision to sell fifty older-model, World War I-era U. S. destroyers to England, which was then at war with Germany. The reason that clouds marked “England” are in the upper right is to show that England was being attacked by Hitler’s air force and isolated yet further by Nazi U-boats. The English desperately needed destroyers to defeat Hitler’s submarines and to keep the English sea-lanes open for needed supplies.

Earlier in the year, Senator Claude Pepper had proposed legislation that came to be called “Lend-Lease,” and the idea was voted down at first. Pepper continued to support the plan. Meanwhile, Roosevelt, realizing that any legislative effort to authorize a sale of navy ships to England would be blocked by Isolationist senators, acted on his own executive authority as president to make the plan a reality. Senator Claude Pepper strongly supported the president’s sale of these destroyers to England, in exchange for which the United States received 99-year leases on seven valuable bases that stretched from Newfoundland to South America (Bailey, 870).

The cartoonist shows a very tall and angry Uncle Sam intervening to stop the “destroyer deal,” as it was called. He is shown telling Senator Pepper: “Not so fast little man-we need those ships over here!” Since the United States is a country on two oceans, the cartoonist objected to the destroyer deal arguing that it was not as vital to our national safety as was our strong, two-ocean U.S. Navy-with all its destroyers.

Senator Pepper, addressed by Uncle Sam as “little man,” was actually 5 ft. 7 inches tall (Magnuson, 22). As we have already seen, sometimes cartoonists who opposed Pepper caricatured him as shorter than he really was.

By late 1940, Senator Claude Pepper was becoming increasingly well known in the United States as a strong opponent of Hitler and Mussolini and as an advocate for Roosevelt’s policy of increased American aid to European democracies in the early months of World War II. This made him popular with those who shared his opposition to the Nazis, but increasingly unpopular with the Isolationists.

Transparency Six: “[Untitled] Three Men on a Horse”

Here, cartoonist Lynn Brudon has drawn a horse named “America First” being ridden simultaneously by three men. The riders are identified by names on their clothing as Wheeler in front, Lindbergh in the middle, and Nye who is riding backwards and holding on to the horse’s tail.

The three riders are dressed all alike in colonial garb, and there is no obvious difference among them: they all look just the same, and their messages above are so similar that the reader cannot tell just who is saying what. They are accusing President Roosevelt of being a war monger, arguing that “Nothing can crush Hitler but a negotiated peace,” declaring that “This (World War II) is Britain’s war,” and pleading to “Make Pepper quit pickin’ on us.” The snorting horse looks very unhappy, probably because of the weight and the ineptitude of the three riders.

Nye is holding a colonial-style lantern, and there is a rhyme at the bottom left:

“Through every Middlesex

Village and farm-

These Paul Reveres

Spread Fear and Alarm-”

At the bottom right, Brudon has written a note, “With deep apologies to Paul Revere and Longfellow-(And also Paul’s horse).” This refers to the cartoonist’s borrowing part of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and for changing some of the original words for their humorous effect when applied to the three bumbling riders in the cartoon.

The horse represents the America First Committee, formed to keep the United States out of World War II. Three of its best known spokespersons in 1941 were Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, the famous flier Charles A. Lindbergh, and Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota. All were strongly Isolationist. Note that Lindbergh is wearing a German-looking decoration. This is a symbolic reference to Lindbergh’s several visits to Nazi Germany and to his being decorated in 1938 by Nazi leader Hermann Goering with the Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle, an award which Lindbergh accepted (Block, 516). All were strongly opposed to Roosevelt’s policies as well as to Claude Pepper’s repeated speeches on behalf of aid to England and to Pepper’s sponsorship of the compulsory military training bill.

The cartoon is strongly critical of the America First Committee and its Isolationism, and also is a compliment to both President Roosevelt and to Senator Pepper.

Transparency Seven: “Defense Stew”

Here the cartoonist has depicted President Roosevelt as a chef with his initials, F.D.R., on his chef’s hat. He is cooking up a stew so hot that the president’s glasses are fogged from the steam. He is adding an important ingredient, “Pepper Florida brand” to the stew, commenting, “I use it for seasoning. It’s hot stuff, but tasty.”

Here the cartoonist has used Pepper’s name as symbolic of the necessary cooking ingredient to make the stew come out exactly as hot as the chef, President Roosevelt, wants it to be. It is this ingredient, “Pepper Florida Brand,” which gives the Defense Stew its necessary potency. Note that Pepper is further identified by the caricature of his face which is at the outside bottom of the pepper container.

The date for the cartoon is given as May 8, 1941. This was two months after the passage of the Lend Lease Bill in both houses of Congress. Pepper had worked for a year in getting it passed, and the bill went a long way in helping President Roosevelt to achieve his foreign policy goal of providing assistance to England and of making the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy” for beleaguered nations elsewhere (Lash, 288; Morison and Commager, 658).

The cartoonist has paid a very high compliment to Senator Pepper in showing how vital he was to President Roosevelt’s U. S. defense plans, symbolized here as “Defense Stew.”

Transparency Eight: “A Slight Case of Indigestion”

The last political cartoon in our program shows a very unhappy Adolf Hitler whose alphabet soup-spelling the names of Lindbergh and Wheeler-has been spoiled by “Too much Pepper,” Senator Claude Pepper from Florida. Note Hitler’s name on the soup dish, and his initials, A.H., on the handle of the spoon. Since Lindbergh and Wheeler were Isolationists who opposed any U. S. intervention on behalf of England, their message was attractive to Hitler. Senator Pepper, however, fresh from his final victory in Lend-Lease and ardent foe of the Nazis, spoke against Hitler and the Isolationists at every opportunity.

The note at the lower left indicates that Pepper’s new plan to frustrate the Isolationists was “Conceived at the Forbes breakfast table June 1st 1941 (in) Rockford Illinois.” Claude Pepper’s diary shows that he visited Seely Forbes, City Councilman of Rockford, Illinois on May 31 and June 1, 1941, and that on June 1, he delivered three addresses, one of which was a thirty-minute radio speech. He had high praise for Seely Forbes and noted that the Rockford, Illinois area contained a large Swedish immigrant population which responded favorably to Pepper’s ideas, but that it also was an area of strong Isolationist support (Pepper, “Diary,” May 31-June 1, 1941).

Several days later, on June 4, 1941, Claude Pepper delivered another speech, this time at Helena, Montana in the home state of Isolationist Senator Burton K. Wheeler. Pepper warned his listeners in Montana of the danger Hitler represented to the whole world, and appealed to them to stand apart from some of their leaders. He said, “My fellow Americans, do not let these fake prophets, these modern Pied Pipers of Hamlin, lead you to your destruction” (Pepper, “Address at Helena,” 4).

Less than three weeks later, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and Pepper lost no time in warning what would happen if Hitler conquered Russia as he had conquered so much of Europe. He said, “A great railroad runs across Russia. It runs this way. It could bring Hitler’s men, Hitler’s tanks, Hitler’s guns, Hitler’s flamethrowers, Hitler’s gestapoes (sic). Those are Russia’s fortifications just off the coast of Alaska, within sight of Alaska. If Hitler crushes Russia, German Nazis will be in those fortifications. They will not have to cross the Pacific. They are already within sight and America’s rising sun will every day lift America’s glory and wealth before their greedy eyes” (Pepper, Address, “America’s Danger,” 3).

With speeches like this coming from Claude Pepper and being so widely reported and so well received, Hitler’s indigestion as depicted in this cartoon is easily explained as stemming from “Too much Pepper mit der alphabet soup.”


The program you have just seen shows how political cartoonists recorded the important contributions of Florida’s Senator Claude Pepper during the two years just prior to the United States entry into World War II. As we have seen, these cartoons document Pepper’s outspoken support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s foreign policy and his courageous opposition to Adolf Hitler at a time when some of America’s best known citizens seemed unaware of-or even supportive of Hitler’s agenda.

These political cartoons do not tell the whole story. They do not document the many instances of support Senator Pepper received from others-especially his wife, Mildred, who was by his side whenever possible. They do, however, highlight Pepper’s national and international importance during 1940 and 1941, and they correctly depict him as the U. S. Senate’s best-known opponent of Isolationism and the Nazis.

Readers of that era read and understood these political cartoons, and they knew at a glance whether the cartoons were favorable to Senator Pepper or whether they were critical of him. As time passed, thinking readers surely noticed that Pepper’s stand on the issues was being reflected in a growing public opinion approval, away from Isolationism and strict neutrality, and toward a greater involvement on the side of Great Britain and against Nazi Germany.

President Roosevelt was elected to a third term as president in 1940, and to yet a fourth term in 1944. In both of these election campaigns he had the strong support of Claude Pepper. President Roosevelt died in office on April 12, 1945, and Pepper was one of only seventeen senators to be invited to attend the burial services at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, NY (Claude Pepper with Hays Gorey, 143).

Claude Pepper served in the U. S. Senate until 1950, and in the House of Representatives from 1962 until his death in 1989. As a Congressman in his later years, Claude Pepper came to be known as the “National Champion of the Elderly” (Magnuson, 21-25).

Claude Pepper never forgot his roots, and all during his later years he looked back with pride on his close association with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and on his relentless opposition to Adolf Hitler.

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