Reposted from this thread:

David is right and wrong: there are actually several excellent theses (and eventually a great book) to be written about the institute of politics. I am biased, but the summer institute in american foreign policy was great and in my conception it was indeed an effort to revive the spirit of Garfield’s work. Fred [Rudolph]’s comments are right on the money, but a few other thoughts.

The one current difficulty in researching the institute is that the archives are largely uncatalogued (they were not catalogued a decade ago when I had access and I don’t think they have been accessible since then) and they are currently unavailable due to the library construction. Some but not all of that material can be found at the Library of Congress.

To understand how important the IOP was at the time you can do a Proquest newspaper search on Williams College for the 1920′s. It will immediately become apparent that with the exception of sports Williams received very little coverage in national papers in the 1920′s. But the events at the institute were often front page news in the NY Times and other papers who covered the entire summer festivities.

One real intellectual problem with the institute, at least according to Garfield and his second in command, Walter McLaren of Economics, was that it could not really decide whether it wanted to be an “elite” institution where policymakers and opinion leaders could settle world problems or whether it would be something that reached a mass audience. That philosophical question was never really resolved and eventually the institute attracted less attention over time as it became more “academic” in character. The other problem was that over time the perception grew that there were too many old ladies sewing and unable to truly participate in the discussions. Neither Garfield nor McLaren really ever liked the idea of the institute as a vacation spot and they were not thrilled that some treated it that way.

Another important factor–and even with the archives it is still a little unclear–is trying to figure out the demise of the institute. Bernard Baruch was indeed the main benefactor but neither he nor Garfield wanted him to be the sole supporter for the institute. By the late 1920′s Baruch basically said that his financial commitment (basically between 25-50 a year, although I think closer to the lower figure) needed to be phased out. Garfield then tried to raise an endowment, but obviously the Great Depression made this impossible. He probably could have kept going year to year, but the endowment became a matter of principle to him.

Part of the problem was that Garfield made it very clear that he would not ask regular williams donors to put up money for the IOP since it would be a conflict of interest. Although he undoubtedly would have liked someone from Williams to step forward, no one did and my sense is he never did put the issue directly to donors.

This reluctance on the part of Williams donors/trustees is not hard to figure out. Garfield spent about 2 months out of every year traveling to Europe in order to get the best speakers he could. He then spent another month away from college business while the institute was in session. Fred Rudolph would probably know better than me, but my real sense is that after the First World War the IOP was far more important to Garfield than Williams. His hope was to make Williamstown the Geneva of the United States and, while he failed for reasons mostly beyond his control, it was not for lack of effort. Williams was the very first institute of politics in the country and every successor acknowledged Garfield’s pioneering efforts.

Final point: at the very beginning of his thinking about the institute, Garfield had two choices. The road he did not take, which some wanted him to do, was to center the institute around undergrads at Williams. One of the other reasons for the institute’s downfall was that there was indeed very little connection between the IOP and Williams students/faculty.

Oh well, much too long a post! But the IOP is indeed a fascinating element of both the history of Williams and the early history of American involvement in world affairs.

Print  •  Email