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American National Biography Online Dennis, Lawrence (25 Dec. 1893?-20 Aug. 1977), diplomat and far-right author, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Sallie Montgomery. Nothing is known of his biological father. His mother, however, was an African American, and Dennis was of mixed race parentage. In 1897 he was adopted by Green Dennis, a contractor, and Cornelia Walker. During his youth Dennis was known as the "mulatto child evangelist," and he preached to church congregations in the African-American community of Atlanta before he was five years old. By the age of fifteen he had toured churches throughout the United States and England and addressed hundreds of thousands of people. Despite his success as an evangelist Dennis had ambitions to move beyond this evangelical milieu. In 1913, unschooled but unquestionably bright, he applied to Phillips Exeter Academy and gained admission. He graduated within two years and in 1915 entered Harvard University. Dennis's decisions to attend these schools were more than steps away from his evangelical career. Born into the African-American world of the South, he now "passed" into white America and constructed a new racial identity for himself. By becoming "white" he opened up opportunities previously beyond his reach. Dennis availed himself of these opportunities almost immediately. As a student he received military training and during World War One served as a first lieutenant in France. After the war he graduated from Harvard and in 1921 entered the U.S. Foreign Service. He served in Haiti, Romania, Honduras, and Nicaragua. His most notable assignment was in 1926 as charge d'affaires in Nicaragua, where he presided over a peace conference between warring liberals and conservatives. Dennis resigned his position in 1927 and joined J. W. Seligman and Company, a banking firm, to be its representative in Peru. In 1930, as the depression deepened, Dennis left the world of international finance and was soon writing articles and commenting in public forums on American foreign and economic policy. His earliest articles criticized American interventionism in Latin America. In his first book, Is Capitalism Doomed? (1932), he broadened his scope to analyze the sustainability of the American economy. He criticized businesspeople as incapable of providing the spiritual leadership needed to reinvigorate a now moribund capitalism, and he called on the state to find a solution to unemployment. While the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 mollified many Americans, Dennis condemned what he called the "planless Roosevelt revolution." In 1933 he became associate editor of the Awakener, a right-wing semimonthly publication, and entered the camp of far-right critics of the New Deal. By 1936, with the publication of his book The Coming American Fascism, Dennis made his reputation as a theorist of "fascism," or what he called an "authoritarian executive state." He believed that Americans would either descend into chaos with the depression or select some form of "totalitarian" system, such as communism or fascism. Liberalism had failed and fascism was the only likely and desirable choice for Americans. In 1933 Dennis married Eleanor Simson; they had two daughters before divorcing in 1957. Dennis left the Awakener in 1935 and joined E. A. Pierce and Company, a New York brokerage firm, as an economist. Along with a partner in the firm, he traveled to Europe, where he met Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He then traveled around the United States for the company, speaking on political and financial issues to groups of businesspeople, where he established a reputation as an expert on these matters. He left his position in 1938 to publish his own subscription newsletter, the Weekly Foreign Letter. In his newsletter Dennis gave investment advice and analyzed world political developments and American policy options. Dennis never sympathized with the ideology of nazism nor with anti-Semitism in his writings. He did, however, fight against American involvement in Europe. He denounced intervention as part of a "religious" war waged for an ideology of "internationalism." An outspoken isolationist, he found himself censured in 1941 by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes as an appeaser and "the brains of American fascism." Dennis published his most ambitious book, The Dynamics of War and Revolution, in 1940. No longer using the controversial term "Fascist," he now argued that a "Socialist" world revolution was occurring and that democracies suffering from historical stagnation would "go Socialist." This would happen in the United States, he suggested, in the process of fighting a futile war against Germany, Italy, and Japan. Dennis achieved a new level of intellectual respectability with this book, which was widely reviewed in political and academic journals. Yet with the outbreak of war, Dennis found that his reputation as an advocate for fascism and isolationism created serious legal problems. The army denied him a commission and considered removing him from the East Coast for security reasons. The postmaster general banned The Dynamics of War and Revolution from the mail, and in early 1944 the Justice Department charged Dennis and twenty-nine codefendants with sedition. The charge against Dennis, conspiring with the Nazis to cause insubordination in the military, could not be sustained by the prosecution. The so-called Mass Sedition Trial ended after seven months, when the presiding judge died of a heart attack, and by 1947 the indictments were dismissed. In 1946 Dennis coauthored a scathing account of the episode, A Trial on Trial: The Great Sedition Trial of 1944. The trial and Dennis's identification as "America's Number One Fascist" made him a political pariah. After World War II he retired to his Becket, Massachusetts, farm, where he resumed publication of his newsletter, renamed the Appeal to Reason. Though he was outspokenly hostile to communism, Dennis continued to endorse isolationism. He opposed Cold War confrontations in Korea and Vietnam and condemned political persecution in the guise of McCarthyism. In 1959 or 1960 he married Dora Shuser Burton; they had no children. Dennis published one last book, Operational Thinking for Survival, in 1968 and continued to publish the Appeal until 1972. Though Dennis died in obscurity in Spring Valley, New York, he made his mark in the interwar years as a critic of liberalism and an outspoken isolationist. His criticism of liberal capitalism was often incisive. His advocacy of authoritarianism, however, made him an object of political derision and repression. He ended his life a political outcast. Bibliography Dennis's papers are held by the Hoover Institution. His oral history, "The Reminiscences of Lawrence Dennis" (1967), is available on microfiche in the Oral History Research Office, Columbia University. Dennis's autobiography, written at age ten, Life-Story of the Child Evangelist Lonnie Lawrence Dennis (n.d.), is essential for information on his youth. For a list of Dennis's articles see Dennis, A Trial on Trial, pp. 447-48. An unpublished paper, Steven Leikin, "The Strange Career of Lawrence Dennis: Race and Far-Right Politics during the Great Depression," delivered at the Dec. 1995 meeting of the American Historical Association, has important information on his background, childhood, and thought during the 1930s. A number of sources deal with specific aspects of his life and thought during the 1930s, the 1940s, and the Cold War, including Leo Ribuffo, The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War (1983); Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right (1975); Justus Doenecke, "Lawrence Dennis: Revisionist of the Cold War," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Summer 1972, pp. 275-86; and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval (1960). An obituary is in the New York Times, 21 Aug. 1977. Steven Leikin Citation: Steven Leikin. "Dennis, Lawrence"; http://www.anb.org/articles/06/06-00872.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. 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.