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Amos Richards Eno Pinchot (1873 - 1944)

Photo of Amos Pinchot Born in Paris, France, and named for his maternal grandfather, Amos's childhood experiences and education were similar to his older brother, Gifford's. But after graduating from Yale in 1897, Amos pursued law at Columbia University and New York Law School.
His studies were interrupted by the Spanish-American War where he served in Puerto Rico as a private in the 1st New York Volunteer Cavalry. He enlisted because he felt Spain was exploiting Cuba. His father could have easily arranged a commission as an officer, but Amos refused.

Following the war, he returned to his education and was admitted to the bar in New York in 1900. He was soon appointed a deputy assistant district attorney for New York County but left the position a year later. Disliking the ordinary practice of law, he thereafter only took cases relevant to his personal causes.

The management of the family estates became a major responsibility. Amos was very much the successor to his father as a public spirited citizen of New York City. He, too, loved the arts, served as a trustee of the New York Philharmonic Society and pushed for morality in government. His political associations matched those of his brother and Theodore Roosevelt, his club memberships those of his father. In his early years he devoted a considerable amount of time to charitable causes, serving as a manager of the Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane, and as a trustee of the University Settlement, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and the Orthopedic Hospital.

Like his father, Gifford and Theodore Roosevelt, Amos was dedicated to reform and relief for the less fortunate but soon realized the issues at stake were deeper than charitable approaches could resolve. By 1910, he decided his efforts so far had treated only the symptoms of social illness, not the causes. That revelation converted him into one of the most zealous reformers of the 20th century.

The issue that brought him fully into political activity was the Ballinger-Pinchot controversy, the public dispute between his brother, Gifford, and the Secretary of the Interior over coal fields in Alaska. Ballinger wanted to return the lands to the public domain. Outraged, Pinchot thought that was like handing chickens to the fox, in this case big money coal interests. Of Amos's role, Gifford said:

"[He was] the man to whom I naturally turned first.... He could not, of course, appear as my formal representative. Nevertheless, his advice and his help were invaluable.... He was indispensable, and was especially useful in getting the facts to the public...."

The controversy became a turning point for Amos. He prepared briefs, marshaled evidence and witnesses, and kept the press glued to the issues. In true Pinchot fashion, Amos concluded that great economic interests were bent on dominating public lands, resources and political institutions to serve their own selfish ends. To him, the controversy revolved around political ethics and served to enlighten the public to the threat posed by unregulated and irresponsible wielders of financial power.

The controversy also established for Amos a number of important and enduring friendships with leading progressive politicians, including Louis D. Brandeis and Senators Jonathan P. Dolliver, Albert Beveridge, A.B. Cummins, and M.E. Clapp. But most important among his new and close friends was Senator Robert LaFollette, whose liberal political philosophies and uncompromising principles were very much in accord with his own.

After 1910, Amos and Gifford helped form the progressive wing of the Republican Party, and eventually the Progressive Party. Amos was the centerpoint of what he called the party’s "radical nucleus." Theodore Roosevelt preferred to call it the "lunatic fringe." Philosophically, Gifford stood with Amos but exercised some political distancing from his brother for maneuvering purposes.

Amos and his cohorts crusaded for a complete program of social and economic reform, "the liberation of this country from special privilege and boss government," Amos said. Their politics cut across party lines, was uncompromisingly reformist and ran early into conflict with the more conservative Progressives led by Roosevelt and George Perkins. Their public battle in 1914 made Amos one of the best known names in America and helped wreck the Progressive Party.

Amos described himself as a "liberal reformer." He believed average people were kept in misery by "reckless and thoughtless commercialism," that denial of fundamental economic and social justice would eventually lead to violent revolution. His "radicalism" was in his view conservative, for he wished to preserve the political institutions of the country from revolutionary destruction:

"What I am trying, in a humble way, to help do, is to prevent violence, disorder and misery by getting people to see the justice of the average man’s demand for a better economic position in this country, and the utter futility of denying or ignoring this demand."

He campaigned for collective bargaining and the right to strike, for public ownership of strategic natural resources and what he termed "natural monopolies" like public utilities, waterpower and transportation systems. He wished to outlaw industrial monopolies and predatory practices, and end abuses like child labor and disregard of workers’ health and safety.

Amos’s active work in the cause of labor and industrial reform led to his membership on the National Defense Council, organized to defend workers arrested on questionable grounds for strikes or other activities. That led to two of his principal lifelong crusades. One was civil liberties which lay at the very core of his political philosophy. He became as prominent in defending pacifists during World War I as he had been in defending workers. The threats to civil liberties he witnessed during the war account in part for his role as a founder and member of the executive committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Amos opposed American entry into the First World War. Although not a pacifist, and supportive of a defensive war, Amos regarded imperialistic wars as the creatures of industrial tyrants who used them to further their control over peoples and governments. He believed working people's rights to a decent living and say in government were among the first casualties of war.

Initially a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Amos soon grew suspicious of the New Deal. He feared government would replace special interests in dominating people’s lives instead of abolishing such domination altogether. By the mid-1930s he criticized the New Deal outspokenly, a position that separated him from most of his former Progressive allies, including (on these issues of political philosophy) his brother Gifford, who nonetheless joined him in supporting Roosevelt’s opponents in 1936.

Amos believed the government would eventually drag the country into another world war. He focused on the antimilitarist issue in the late 1930s and prominently became one of the early writers and speakers for the America First Committee, known more generically as isolationists. He served as president of the New York chapter of the Committee. This, like so many of his other crusades, came to grief when the United States entered the war.

The author of scores of publications on the subjects of his lifelong crusades and a collector of paintings and fine furniture, Amos died at his home in New York in 1944. Despite his staunch antimilitarism, he remained proud of his own wartime service. His headstone in the family plot in the Milford Cemetery is that to which he was entitled as a veteran, and cites his service in the War with Spain. Throughout his life, Grey Towers had remained a frequent retreat for Amos and his family.


USDA Forest Service - Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:05 CST


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