Henry Morgenthau


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(b. New York City, 11 May 1891; d. Poughkeepsie, 6 Feb. 1967)

US; Secretary of the Treasury 1934–45 Morgenthau was the son of a German Jewish immigrant who had become a New York financier and served as US ambassador to Turkey 1913–16. He attended Philips Exeter Academy before entering Cornell University to study architecture. Finding this subject of little interest he left Cornell, began working with his father, became ill, and whilst recuperating in Texas became interested in agriculture. Returning to Cornell he studied agriculture for two years, 1909–10 and 1912–13, before buying a large farm on the Hudson River. During the First World War he served as a lieutenant in the US navy. After the war he returned to farming, and acquired the journal American Agriculturalist, which he published for eleven years, 1922–33.

Morgenthau's career in the public service began in 1929, when his farming neighbour and friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, appointed him chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Commission. Thereafter he was appointed a member, then chairman, of Taconic State Park Commission 1929–31, and a member of the New York State Conservation Commission 1931. When Roosevelt became President, Morgenthau became chairman of the Federal Farm Board and was assigned the task of reorganizing the existing farm lending agencies of the government. This was accomplished in the form of the Farm Credit Administration, of which he became governor in 1933. That same year he moved to the Treasury, serving first as acting secretary, then as Under-Secretary and finally, in 1934, as Secretary of the Treasury, a post which he continued to hold until 1945.

Morgenthau is chiefly remembered for his long tenure in this post. As Secretary of the Treasury he was in charge of US finances throughout the turbulent years of the New Deal and the Second World War. On taking office he faced the formidable task of stabilizing America's monetary system in the aftermath of abandoning the Gold Standard. During the war he played a key role in the planning and operation of the Lend-Lease scheme designed to support the Allied war effort. He was also instrumental in devising the plans for the post-war monetary system that eventually emerged from Bretton Woods in 1944. When, in 1945, his somewhat bizarre plans for the enforced ‘pastoralization’ of post-war Germany found little favour with Truman, Morgenthau became marginalized and resigned.

After retiring from public life Morgenthau turned to the task of editing his detailed and controversial diaries and records of his time in the Treasury.

Subjects: Warfare and Defence.

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