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Commerce Cabinet Crisis IV

By Matthew Yglesias on January 27, 2009 at 12:23 pm

"Commerce Cabinet Crisis IV"

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Following Herbert Hoover’s resignation, President Coolidge took the Commerce Secretary job in a basically caretaker direction with William F. Whiting:

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Whiting was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on July 20, 1864 into one of those families of Yankee industrialists who were the mainstays of the pre-WWII Republican Party. His father worked in the paper industry for Holyoke Paper Company and the Hampden Paper Company before founding his own firm, the Whiting Paper Company which I believe is different from the George A. Whiting Paper Company, since the founder’s name was also “William.” Papa Whiting had been mayor of Holyoke and a State Senator as well as a delegate to various Republican conventions.

The younger Whiting followed his father into business, serving as Treasurer of the company and then President (at which point his brother became treasurer) but he didn’t have much in the way of political ambitions, though he was a Massachusetts Republican Delegate at some conventions. Nevertheless, somewhere along the way Whiting befriended Calvin Coolidge who was making his way up through Bay State politics (they may have met in college, both went to Amherst). With just a few months left in his term after Hoover’s resignation, Coolidge tapped his friend Whiting for the Commerce post but the Coolidge administration was generally short on legislative initiatives and little happened its waning days. It occurred to me, incidentally, to wonder if I wasn’t overlooking a major Commerce Department role in Prohibition during the 1920s, but it seems that Volstead Act enforcement was lodged inside the Treasury Department (initially subordinate the IRS’ precursor agency, later as a freestanding Treasury component like today’s BATF) rather than Commerce or Justice.

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