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American National Biography Online Howe, Frederic Clemson (21 Nov. 1867-3 Aug. 1940), lawyer and reformer, was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the son of Andrew Jackson Howe, a furniture manufacturer, and Jane Clemson. He graduated with an A.B. from hometown Allegheny College in 1889, studied at the University of Halle in Germany, and received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1892 with a dissertation on the "History of the Internal Revenue System." He married Marie H. Jenney, a Unitarian minister, in 1904; they had no children. Although Howe's ambition from boyhood was journalism, his failure to find a newspaper job after finishing his Ph.D. led him to switch to the law. After a year at New York Law School, he became secretary of the Pennsylvania Tax Commission and passed the bar examination. In 1894 he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he became associated with the law firm of Harry Garfield and James R. Garfield, the sons of the former president. A specialist on tax questions, he wrote the comprehensive Taxation and Taxes in the United States under the Internal Revenue System 1791-1895 (1896). Impelled by a gospel of service from his Methodist-Quaker family background, Howe was active in social settlement work in Cleveland. He was secretary of the city's good-government organization, the Municipal Association, and was elected in 1901 to a two-year term on the city council. Although elected as a Republican, he became a lieutenant of Democratic mayor Tom L. Johnson. Under Johnson's influence, Howe was converted to Henry George's (1839-1897) single-tax philosophy and championship of municipal ownership of public utilities, such as the streetcar lines. He studied cities in this country and abroad and published a series of books--starting with The City: The Hope of Democracy (1905)--setting forth his vision of economic, cultural, and moral improvement through municipal planning and an activist city government. Howe was a member of the Ohio State Senate (1906-1908) and the Cleveland Board of Tax Assessors (1909-1910). Having become financially independent, Howe retired from his law practice in 1910 and moved to New York City. He was director for three years of the People's Institute, which carried on a program of educational and cultural activities aimed at the city's poor. He was part of the artistic and political ferment centered in Greenwich Village. In 1911 he became secretary of the National Progressive Republican League in support of the presidential bid of Wisconsin senator Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925), and he wrote an admiring account of La Follette's achievements in Wisconsin, an Experiment in Democracy (1912). After La Follette failed to win nomination, Howe, admiring neither Progressive Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) nor Republican William H. Taft, supported Democrat Woodrow Wilson for president in 1912. In 1914 Wilson appointed him commissioner of immigration for the Port of New York. In that post, he labored to humanize the treatment of immigrants and to protect the newcomers from exploitation. Howe moved to the left politically during the Wilson years. He blamed World War I on economically motivated and upper-class-driven imperialist rivalries among the European powers. He joined with social philosopher John Dewey and reformer George L. Record in organizing the Association for an Equitable Federal Income Tax to push for higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for military preparedness. He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as a consultant on the eastern Mediterranean but was so disillusioned with what he thought was Wilson's betrayal of his anti-imperialist ideals that he attacked the League of Nations as "an international sanction to make permanent the conquests of the war." Howe resigned his immigration commissionership in September 1919 rather than carry out the deportation of alien radicals in the postarmistice "red scare." He became executive director of the Conference on Democratic Railroad Control to promote the railroad brotherhoods' Plumb Plan for government ownership of the railroads. In Denmark: A Cooperative Commonwealth (1921), he extolled the Danish network of cooperatives as a democratic alternative to the wage system. In 1922 he was involved in the formation of the Conference for Progressive Political Action to mobilize the labor and farmer vote in that year's congressional elections. When the conference took the lead in launching the Progressive party in 1924, Howe was research assistant for the new party's presidential nominee, La Follette. Howe published his autobiography, The Confessions of a Reformer, in 1925. In it he portrayed the small-town society in which he was reared--"a comfortable little world, Republican in politics, careful in conduct, Methodist in religion"--and his efforts to unlearn its values and prejudices. He was perceptive about the tensions within himself between his conscience and his attraction to the comforts and status that money and professional success offered. Politically he remained under the sway of the "evangelistic psychology" of his youth. He viewed the world in terms of moral absolutes--the people versus the privileged, producers versus nonproducers, good versus evil. After 1924 Howe spent his winters traveling in Europe and summers running a self-styled "School of Opinion" on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, at which reform-minded intellectuals and academics gathered for informal discussions. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1932 and was rewarded with appointment as consumer's counsel for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). His efforts to organize consumers to resist food profiteers antagonized processors and distributors. In the reshuffle of the AAA in 1935, he was edged out of his post and given the token title of special adviser to the secretary of agriculture. In 1937 he became adviser to the Philippine government on farm tenancy and cooperatives. After his return to the United States he served as an expert consultant on agricultural commodities to the Temporary National Economic Committee set up in 1938 at Roosevelt's behest to investigate the problem of monopoly. He was finishing up a study of European banking when he died in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. Bibliography Howe left no personal papers. His autobiography is at times vague on details and at other times suffers from lapses of memory. Howe was a prolific writer. In addition to works noted above, his books include: The Confessions of a Monopolist (1906), The British City: The Beginnings of Democracy (1907), Privilege and Democracy in America (1910), European Cities at Work (1913), The Modern City and Its Problems (1915), Socialized Germany (1915), Why War (1916), The Only Possible Peace (1919), and Revolution and Democracy (1921). Howe's life and career are discussed in Robert H. Bremner, "Honest Man's Story: Frederic C. Howe," one of several articles in the series "The Civic Revival in Ohio," American Journal of Economics and Sociology 8 (July 1949): 413-22, and John Braeman's "Introduction" to the Quadrangle Books reprint edition of The Confessions of a Reformer (1967). John Braeman Citation: John Braeman. "Howe, Frederic Clemson"; http://www.anb.org/articles/06/06-00294.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Copyright Notice Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the American National Biography of the Day and Sample Biographies provided that the following statement is preserved on all copies: From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.