U.S REPRESENTATIVE SOL BLOOM:
To Whom We Owe
"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS" (note 21)
by Patrick Killough
Sol Bloom was 75 years old in April 1945 when he returned by train to his childhood home as one of seven on-the-spot American Delegates to the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO). Bloom had been born in 1870 in Pekin, Illinois, the son of poor orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland. With them in 1875 he moved to San Francisco. Sol enjoyed precisely one day of formal schooling and worked twelve-hour days from age seven onward.
Like Ronald Reagan, Sol Bloom spent his early adult life in show business. In 1893 he was general superintendant of the Chicago World Fair's Midway Plaisance where is remembered for his belly dancers and his original "Hootchy Kootchy" tune, song and dance. In February 1898, the day he and the nation learned that an American battleship had blown up in Havana harbor, Bloom and his songwriters dashed off "The Heroes who Sank with the Maine." It was sung in public that same evening in Chicago's Haymarket Theater. Characteristically, the patriotic Bloom donated half his profits from the song to families of the dead sailors. Later in Chicago and New York Bloom pioneered selling of sheet music by mail. He also sold musical instruments and became known as "Sol Bloom the Music Man." In New York he went into real estate and construction and also designed the modern folding theater seat. He became a very rich man.
Sol Bloom was a "joiner": member of Jewish groups, a Mason, a Moose, Red Man, an Elk. He was also a great reader and student of American history. To him Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, was "the first civilized American" (n. 22). Sol Bloom loved to tell the story of 23 Jews who arrived in North America's Dutch-owned New Amsterdam in 1654. After a struggle they were permitted to live in the future New York, but only if they took care of one another and never became public charges. Bloom was proud of the long Jewish presence in what became the United States. Jews gave as good as they got. Like all other immigrants Jews took the tacit pledge that their new country would become better for their presence (n.23).
Aged 50 and a wealthy man, Sol Bloom retired from business in 1920 in favor of politics. In a special election in 1923 he was elected U. S Representative from Manhattan's 19th District. This made him, prior to redistricting, the representative in Congress of the Barnard College campus whose dean was Virginia Gildersleeve. Barnard was the women's adjunct of Columbia University and Columbia's conservative Republican President Nicholas Murray Butler often endorsed Bloom's liberal democratic candidacies. No Congressmen outdid U.S. Representative Sol Bloom in direct service to their constituents.
In Congress the Music Man made himself an expert on copyright. In 1930 he was named Chairman of the Bicentennial Commission on the birth of George Wasington. In 1935 he was Director-General of the U.S. Sesquicentennial Commission. He later claimed that through his leadership of these two commissions he had "taught more real American history to more students than anyone in the United States" (n. 24) In 1939 Bloom was named Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. His abiding trademark as Chairman was bipartisan consensus and committee harmony. This did not, however, preclude many a hard fight. He called his role in leading the House in early 1941 to pass the Lend-Lease Act "the greatest battle of my whole career" (n. 25).
In the fall of 1941, widely denounced as "the Jewish warmonger," Sol Bloom shepherded through the House the extension of the draft. The vote on the floor of the House was still in progress. A Representative who had just cast his ballot to extend the draft told Bloom in the cloakroom that he had changed his mind and was going back in to vote "nay." Bloom stood in the cloakroom door and said that his colleague would have to knock him through the doorway to return to the House chamber. The Representative did not go back and the draft was extended by one vote in the House.
To Sol Bloom Washington, D.C. became a de facto wartime capital as soon as the Lend-Lease Law was enacted in March 1941. Businessmen flocked there and it seemed that they all wanted to speak in person to young Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., former Chairman of U. S. Steel and now the Lend-Lease Administrator. Bloom wrote three years later: "To most people Washington in these years was a place that combined the worst features of a railway station during rush hours, an insane asylum, and zoo" (n. 26).
During Bloom's two months in San Francisco at work on the UN Charter, he was most impressed by traits of four of the other six U.S. Delegates:
the strong, confident leadership of young Ed Stettinius; the quick, incisive mind of harold Stassen; the bigness of Arthur Vandenberg and Tom Connally; working in perfect harmony, without the faintest trace of partisan conflict (n. 27)Among the subordinate members of the Delegation Mr Bloom singled out John Foster Dulles and Leo Pasvolsky for warm praise. It may be significant that he offered no comments either on his constituent, Dean Virginia Gildersleeve, or on the private Observers or the 42 American Consultants, including his hyper-active fellow New Yorkers, James T. Shotwell and Clark Eichelberger.
At San Francisco Bloom had one main goal: to make sure everyone agreed that the UN's Charter was "for all people of all countries." He went to the mat with Jan Christiaan Smuts of South Africa and Alexander Loudon of the Netherlands who argued that governments, not peoples, make international agreements. It would please Sol Bloom, publicist of George Washington and the U.S. Constitution to learn in 1991 or later that if school children around the world know by heart any phrase of the UN Charter, it is the words which Bloom insisted begin the Preamble: "We, the peoples of the United Nations." On the humorous side, the Congressman from Manhattan could not bear being lectured by militant feminists, especially Dr Bertha Lutz of Brazil. Dr Lutz (whom some English-speaking delegates archly nicknamed Lutzwaffe) complained to Dean Gildersleeve that Bloom had insulted her (n. 28).
In January 1946 Sol Bloom represented the U.S. at the first meeting of the UN General Assembly in London. There he realized what he called "the supreme moment" of his life when he persuaded a majority of delegates to vote against their official instructions and allow the new United Nations organization to take over financial responsibility for the wartime "United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration" (UNRRA). From the 1920s onward Sol Bloom had often represented his country abroad in delegations or at international conferences. He had, for example, been particularly active at the 1943 Bermuda Conference on war refugees.
Chairman Bloom was a man of few words. Here is his laconic tale of the making of the United Nations:
On January 1, 1942 twenty-six nations made a joint declaration in Washington of their pledge to fight the Axis powers until complete victory should be achieved. Thus the United Nations came into being.(21) Sol Bloom tells his own remarkable story in his 1948 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SOL BLOOM. Also useful is Hugh Bone's 1946 sketch, "Sol Bloom: 'Supersalesman of Patriotism.'"
Virginia Gildersleeve thought that fellow Delegate Bloom added "little strength in brains and knowledge" to the American team at San Francisco. He found foreign delegates hard to take. In all formal meetings Gildersleeve, as lowest ranking Democrat, always sat on Bloom's right. She gave him credit, along with Harold Stassen and herself, for being the only American Delegates concerned with the Charter's Preamble. (See her MANY A GOOD CRUSADE (1954), pps. 321, 322 and 344).
To Robert A. Divine in 1967 it made political sense for Roosevelt to name Bloom, qua chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a U.S. Delegate, "...but his brash manner and superficial knowledge of foreign affairs made him an ineffective delegate..." (SECOND CHANCE, p. 271). Unless otherwise noted references in the Bloom text above are to Bloom's AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
(22) Bloom (1948), 301.
(23) ibid., 298.
(24) Bone (1946), 232.
(25) Bloom (1948), 141.
(26) ibid., 250.
(27) ibid., 277.
(28) Gildersleeve (1954). 353.
(29) Bloom (1948), 276.
presented orally 07/26/1991
lightly edited 03/21/2004
TPK, Black Mountain, NC