Commerce Cabinet Crisis VII: Daniel C. Roper


In March of 1933, the United States of America emerged from its nightmarish flirtation with the ludicrous concept of being governed by a President whose former job was Secretary of Commerce, and returned to the honest and decent practice of picking a relatively inexperienced governor. And along with Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal came a new Commerce Secretary, Daniel Calhoun Roper of South Carolina, one of the white supremacists who made mid-century Democratic Party politics so charming. Roper’s father was a leader of the so-called Scotch Boys (they came from Scotland County, SC) during the Civil War. Roper himself was born shortly after the war’s end, in 1867, and graduated from Duke in 1888.

In 1892 he got himself elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Then in 1893, he went to work on the staff of the US Senate’s Interstate Commerce Committee. Starting in 1900, he spent ten years working for the Census Bureau and then joined the House Ways and Means Committee staff. Woodrow Wilson made him first assistant postmaster general, which was an important patronage position at the time, and he served as chairman of Wilson’s reelection campaign. He then became chairman of the 1917 US Tariff Commission, which sounds dull but at the time it was a quite important economic policy position as lowering trade barriers was a major Democratic Party priority. His service in the Wilson administration ended with a stint heading up the IRS from 1917-1920. Then it was into the wilderness for Roper until the Democrats came roaring back with FDR.

In the early New Deal years, Roper was sort of FDR’s envoy to the business community. He set up an outfit called the Business Advisory Council composed of pro-New Deal executives. The National Recovery Administration cartelization policies really were pretty favorable to the interests of big business, but there were tensions over the administration’s pro-union inclinations, which led to the departure in 1934 of some initially supportive BAC members. Still, the BAC helped spearhead some business support for the creation of Social Security, though the majority of the business community was having none of it. He resigned from the cabinet in 1938 and became Ambassador to Canada.