NYE, GERALD (1892-1971)
Sen. Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota gained prominence as one of the most outspoken of Great Plains isolationists in the pre–World War II period. Born in Wisconsin on December 19, 1892, Nye moved to North Dakota in 1916 and became a small-town newspaper publisher. In 1924 he was an unsuccessful independent candidate for Congress. When Sen. Edwin F. Ladd of North Dakota died in 1926, Nye emerged as the dark horse interim appointment of Gov. Arthur G. Sorlie. He won his first election on a platform of "North Dakota for North Dakotans." In his first term he voiced typical populist conspiracy themes of the exploitation of farmers and little people by big business and banks. In the early 1930s he supported Father Charles Coughlin and his goal to control the evils of capitalism and Dr. Francis Townsend's plan to give every person over sixty a pension of $200 a month. He initially supported the National Recovery Administration but then felt it had been completely co-opted by industry.
In 1933 Nye gained national prominence by heading an investigation of the munitions industry in which he cast the industry as profiteers and warmongers. The late 1930s saw Nye's isolationist views come to fruition in the Neutrality Acts of 1936 and 1937. After war broke out in Europe in 1939, Nye worked with the America First Committee and protested any efforts to aid Britain or defend our freedoms on the high seas. He even sought to investigate the movie industry, especially Jewish film producers, alleging bias in demonizing Germany. Pearl Harbor undercut Nye's support. He mellowed his views to offer support for the war, but in 1944 he was defeated. His defeat was less over the war issue than such local issues such as his divorce and hasty reremarriage, his Chevy Chase lifestyle, and his failure to bring home the bacon to the home folks. He died in Washington DC on July 18, 1971.
Theodore B. Pedeliski University of North Dakota
Cole, Wayne. Senator Gerald P. Nye and American Foreign Relations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.