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Arguing Americanism

Franco Lobbyists, Roosevelt's Foreign Policy, and the Spanish Civil War

Michael E. Chapman

Publication Year: 2011

The struggle to define U.S. national identity through a political struggle in Spain

In 1938 the United States was embroiled in a vicious debate between supporters of the two sides of the Spanish Civil War, who sought either to lift or to retain the U.S. arms embargo on Spain. The embargo, which favored Gen. Francisco Franco’s Nationalist regime over the ousted Republican government of the Loyalists, received heavy criticism for enabling a supposedly fascist-backed takeover during a time when the Nazi party in Germany was threatening the annexation of countries across Europe. Supporters of General Franco, however, saw the resistance of the Loyalists as being spurred on by the Soviet Union, which sought to establish a communist government abroad.

Since World War II, American historians have traditionally sided with the Loyalist supporters, validating their arguments that the pro-Nationalists were un-American for backing an unpalatable dictator. In Arguing Americanism, author Michael E. Chapman examines the long-overlooked pro-Nationalist argument. Employing new archival sources, Chapman documents a small yet effective network of lobbyists—including engineer turned writer John Eoghan Kelly, publisher Ellery Sedgwick, homemaker Clare Dawes, muralist Hildreth Meière, and philanthropist Anne Morgan—who fought to promote General Franco’s Nationalist Spain and keep the embargo in place.

Arguing Americanism also goes beyond the embargo debate to examine the underlying issues that gripped 1930s America. Chapman posits that the Spanish embargo argument was never really about Spain but rather about the soul of Americanism, the definition of democracy, and who should do the defining. Pro-Loyalists wanted the pure democracy of the ballot box; pro-Nationalists favored the checks and balances of indirect democracy. By pointing to what was happening in Spain, each side tried to defend its version of Americanism against the foreign forces that threatened it. For Franco supporters, it was the spread of international Marxism, toward which they felt Roosevelt and his New Deal were too sympathetic. The pro-Nationalists intensified an argument that became a precursor to a fundamental change in American national identity—a change that would usher in the Cold War era.

Arguing Americanism will appeal to political scientists, cultural historians, and students of U.S. foreign relations.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series


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p. vi


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxii

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936, the leaders of Britain and France organized a twenty-seven-nation Non-Intervention Committee, which included Italy, Germany, and the USSR, in the hope that they could contain the fighting. Across the Atlantic, where isolationist sentiment was at a historic peak after the one-two shocks of the Great War and the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt followed Britain’s lead...

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1 Pro-Franco Anticommunism

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pp. 1-34

There was a one-column hint of trouble on 14 July 1936. Under the headline “Monarchist Chief Murdered in Spain,” New York Times correspondent William P. Carney, a Catholic whose sympathies were not with Madrid’s Popular Front government, wired that at 3:00 a.m. uniformed police in an official car arrested rightist opposition leader José Calvo Sotelo and then delivered his bayoneted body...

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2 Defending Americanism

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pp. 35-60

At the end of 1937, John Eoghan Kelly returned from a business trip to Berlin convinced that Europeans were in the final throes of a death struggle with communism, worried that communist propaganda would provoke revolution at home, and determined to defend America from what he believed was impending Red peril. Kelly’s fears might seem silly, even paranoid, yet to him and the hundreds of Americans who joined him in lobbying Capitol Hill to back Spain’s Nationalists they were real. Just as Popular Front activists evinced Gen. Francisco Franco’s coup...

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3 Roosevelt’s Mental Map

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pp. 61-86

March of Time’s newsreel of President Roosevelt’s “Quarantine” address from the isolationist heartland of Chicago on 5 October 1937 captured his characteristic head waggles and expressionless eyebrows, the wind-blown notepaper, and his liturgical monotone delivery. In the newsreel’s introduction, Edward Herlihy called it a “bombshell declaration against the policy of isolation and neutrality”; the declaration had brought the “nations of this earth”...

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4 Keeping the Embargo

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pp. 87-107

Twin factors ensured that arms did not flow from the United States to Loyalist Spain. On one hand, President Franklin D. Roosevelt put little effort into either circumventing or lifting the Neutrality Act–imposed arms embargo because his heart lay in aiding exotic China rather than decadent Spain. On the other, a pro-Franco lobby was mobilizing both public and congressional opinion behind maintenance of the act. Roosevelt’s reticence over Spain in particular, along with his indecisiveness over Europe in general, combined with a malaise...

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5 The American Union for Nationalist Spain

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pp. 108-133

American supporters of Nationalist Spain came from different backgrounds, had varying interests, and held wide-ranging opinions. A loathing of international communism was their most fundamental unifier, followed at some remove by suspicion of the New Deal as a leviathan state encroaching on individual liberties. While it would be a truism to say that they shared a liking for traditional Spain, Spain for pro-Nationalists was a romanticized construct, a mental map onto whose contours they had imprinted a set of attributes—from Christian reconquest to castanets...

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6 Spain in Arms

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pp. 134-155

City dwellers with a quarter in their pocket and a longing for entertainment had plenty of choices in the late 1930s. In addition to plays, concerts, and dances, they could choose from dozens of venues, from five-thousand-seat theaters to halls that rented a flickery 16-mm projector for an evening of motion picture viewing. Few feature films ran longer than ninety minutes, so patrons typically watched newsreels or a stage act before the main attraction. Documentaries were popular too, both in movie theaters and at social gatherings, fund-raisers...

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7 Franco Lobbyists and the Christian Front

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pp. 156-183

In the electric geopolitical environment of 1938–39, when so many anxious underemployed Americans had time on their hands, there was an explosion of social activism, soapbox oratory, mimeographed newssheets, and politicized organizations. Labels of all kinds proliferated, from Bundists to Trotskyites, Peace Crusaders to Christian Defenders. A label became a badge of honor, a part of one’s identity, easy to acquire by tagging along to a meeting with an enthusiastic friend yet hard to slough off once social commitments were in place...

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8 Un-American Americanism

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pp. 184-216

Gen. Francisco Franco’s face adorned Time’s front cover on 27 March 1939. With much reluctance, five days later Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State Department recognized Spain’s new government. For America’s Franco lobbyists, preoccupation with the arms embargo was over. But with the Loyalists defeated, their cause was now ill defined, and with Adolf Hitler poised for European expansion, their support of a regime that had just signed a bilateral Treaty of Friendship...

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pp. 217-224

After a counterrevolutionary insurgency by Gen. Francisco Franco’s Nationalists in July 1936 degenerated into a brutal, protracted civil war, many Americans for whom Spain seemed closer than 3,600 miles away took interest in the conflict. There were those who had no particular ideological axe to grind—entrepreneurs hoping to recover investments, vacationers with romantic attachments, immigrants worried about relatives, officers keen to evaluate the latest weaponry...


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pp. 225-227


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pp. 228-281


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pp. 282-300


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pp. 301-315

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775296
E-ISBN-10: 1612775292
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606350782

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: New Studies in U.S. Foreign Relations Series
Series Editor Byline: Mary Ann Heiss See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794698848
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Arguing Americanism

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Foreign public opinion, American.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Participation, American.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Propaganda.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Diplomatic history.
  • Anti-communist movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Public opinion -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Spain.
  • Spain -- Foreign relations -- United States.
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