Harold Ickes

Harold Ickes - longest serving Secretary of The Interior, undone by a feud with the President.

An Old Fashioned Resignation – Secretary Harold Ickes Resigns – February 14, 1946

Harold Ickes
Harold Ickes – longest serving Secretary of The Interior, undone by a feud with the President.

Secretary of The Interior Harold Ickes Resignation Press Conference – Feb. 14, 1946 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

Thinking back on Cabinet position resignations in the past, not a lot mired in scandal come to mind before the days of the Nixon Administration in the 70s. Although I’m sure there have been, off the top of my head I can’t think of any.

Prior to that it was the end result of a feud, bad blood, clashing ideologies, political house-cleaning – most anything but scandal.

One such prominent resignation came in the form of Secretary of The Interior Harold Ickes who was, up until February 14, 1946, the longest serving Cabinet member in Washington; some 14 years since his appointment by President Roosevelt. A staunch FDR supporter and early proponent of Civil Rights, Ickes was outspoken and was characterized in Time Magazine as a “curmudgeon”, but he was a person of principles. The resignation came about as the result of a feud with President Truman (who had taken office at the death of FDR in 1945) and his choice of Cabinet appointments. Truman had appointed Edwin W. Pauley to the position of Assistant Secretary of The Navy, which Ickes was in opposition to. Seems Pauley, a wealthy California Oil executive, had testified during confirmation hearings, and that Ickes claimed he was “not telling the truth” when he testified that he did not lobby against the government’s suit to establish Federal title to tidelands all along the U.S. coasts and that Ickes suggested the Justice Department be brought in to scrutinize Pauley’s testimony. The claim and the suggestion of further investigation brought a backlash from Truman and the end result was a call for Ickes’ resignation and a terse note to Ickes telling him to vacate the premises within four days of his resignation.

What ensued was a hastily called press conference where Ickes fired back, giving the press an earful in the process.

Just a reminder that resignations have changed a lot over the years – but then, so has Capitol Hill – so has the White House. Here is former Secretary of The Interior Harold Ickes press conference, as it was aired live on February 14, 1946.

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