Herbert Henry Lehman

Herbert Henry Lehman (1878-1963), American banker and statesman, was a distinguished and productive governor of New York.

Herbert H. Lehman was born in New York City on March 8, 1878, the eighth child of a prosperous Jewish businessman. Following his graduation from Williams College in 1899, he entered the business world, acquiring a considerable fortune as a textile executive and, later, as a member of the banking house of Lehman Brothers. He was a staunch Democrat and attended a Democratic state convention as early as 1910. Lehman managed New York Governor Alfred E. Smith's campaign for reelection in 1926. In 1928 he was finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee and an ardent supporter of Smith for the presidency. Also in 1928 he accepted the nomination for lieutenant governor on Franklin Roosevelt's gubernatorial ticket. Though Smith was defeated, Roosevelt and Lehman were elected—Lehman by a very narrow margin.

Lehman was reelected lieutenant governor in 1930. In 1932, with Roosevelt running for the presidency, he was nominated for governor and won handily. He served in that office for 10 years (he was reelected in 1934 and 1936, and in 1938 for a 4-year term), distinguishing himself by his interest in social reform, in public housing, and in regulation of the power industry.

With the coming of World War II, Lehman turned his attention to international affairs. He played an important role in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, of which he was appointed the first administrator in 1943. This organization represented the efforts of 44 nations to deal with the vast problems of relief and rehabilitation raised by the war. It operated in 25 countries, served the needs of more than a billion people, and distributed 25 million long tons of relief and rehabilitation supplies.

Lehman resigned as director in 1946 in order to run for the U.S. Senate. In this election he was soundly defeated by the Republican candidate, Irving Ives. This did not quench Lehman's political ambition, however. In 1949 he defeated John Foster Dulles to fill an unexpired term in the Senate and was elected for the full 6-year term in 1950. He declined to run for reelection in 1956.

In the Senate, Lehman was not among the small coterie who played a dominant role in legislation. But he showed great courage in opposing Joseph McCarthy's attempt to raise the specter of communism in the United States through his senatorial hearings. Lehman was singularly free from the call of political expediency. Throughout his life he maintained a wide interest in a great variety of social causes. He died on Dec. 6, 1963.


Further Reading on Herbert Henry Lehman

The full-length study of Lehman is Allan Nevins, Herbert H. Lehman and His Era (1963).