In Parts 1 and 2, we have seen S. Parker Gilbert apply his financial brilliance to tax reform and to the reconstruction of war-torn Europe. The last glimpses we now get of him are as a commentator on the intraparty struggles leading up to the 1928 Republican convention.
Part 3: In opposition to Hoover
Herbert Hoover won his party’s nomination for the Presidency in 1928 overwhelmingly on the first ballot, and to many this seemed a foregone conclusion, a mere ratification of Hoover’s foreordained role as standard bearer. But in reality his grasp of the nomination had been shaky until days before the party met in Kansas City. While he was popular with independents, progressives, and liberals, there was, in fact, widespread opposition to Hoover within the GOP. His Republican credentials were uncertain – as late as 1920 he had not unequivocally denied Democratic attempts to name him a presidential candidate and had actually won the Democratic primary in Michigan that year.
While Hoover inspired loyalty among those who worked under him, others who had had to work with him were less impressed. One such man was S. Parker Gilbert. In fact, Gilbert is credited with the quip that Hoover was “Secretary of Commerce and Under-Secretary of everything else,” an arrangement that actually resulted from an understanding between Warren Harding and Hoover. Writing to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon a month before the 1928 convention, Gilbert (then Agent General for Reparations) expressed concern that if the reparations settlement was not concluded before a potential Hoover Presidency, there could never be a satisfactory settlement. Hoover, he wrote, would not be likely to approach the problem “…in an objective and straight-forward way.” Rather, he would “…be more subject than almost any other important candidate to being moved by his own personal prejudices and his own preconceived ideas…in general he will not be happy about any settlement unless it is a Hoover settlement, evolved and worked out under his personal direction.” Mindful of the difficulties Hoover had caused during the inter-allied debt commission negotiations, Gilbert ventured that Hoover “…would be about the worst possible president from the standpoint of foreign affairs…” As we have seen in Part 2, ever mindful of his presidential aspirations, Hoover was one of the more recalcitrant administration figures opposing Gilbert’s attempts to revise the Dawes Plan and to arrive at a final solution of the reparations question.
Mellon tended to agree with Gilbert’s assessment of Hoover, yet he was reluctant to spearhead the anti-Hoover forces. There was no promising candidate in sight – Mellon pinned his hopes on persuading president Coolidge, but in a last-ditch meeting shortly before Mellon departed to attend the Kansas City convention, Coolidge “looked down his nose and almost snarled” his reply to Mellon’s question whether there was the slightest hope that he would change his mind. Vice-President Dawes was not a viable candidate, unsupportive as he was to one of the central Coolidge administration planks, opposition to the McNary-Haugen farm relief bill. For all his accomplishments, there never was any enthusiasm for Charles E. Hughes. In the end, Mellon did come out in support of Hoover on the eve of the convention, prompted in part by a preemptive move of his Pennsylvania Republican rival, temporary U.S. SenatorWilliam S. Vare of Philadelphia, who bolted the Mellon-controlled Pennsylvania delegation and declared for Hoover. Ultimately, Hoover was nominated on the first ballot.
After Hoover’s election, Gilbert remained in his post as agent general for reparations (as described in Part 2) and engaged himself in the formulation of the Young Plan. Following the death of Benjamin Strong, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), the de facto U.S. Central Bank of the time, Gilbert was briefly floated as a possible replacement – Owen Young, cabling Gilbert on behalf the FRBNY board, expressed the “universal opinion here that you are the best qualified of any man in the world.” When his tenure as agent general ended, he became a J.P. Morgan partner. Gilbert was among those attending Andrew Mellon’s funeral in 1937; he himself died of a heart attack a scant 8 months later, at the age of only 45 and after a life of unusually diverse and important contributions.