Claude G. Bowers · 1966
By Abu Bakar Hashim
Claude Gernade Bowers, newspaperman, historian, author, and diplomat, was born in Westfield, Hamilton County, Indiana, on November 20, 1878, son of Lewis and Juliet Bowers. His father was a merchant.
Claude Bowers was educated at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis and private tutors.
He entered newspaper work almost by accident. A friend writing editorials for the Indianapolis Sentinel wanted to go fishing. He asked Bowers, who was then studying law in Indianapolis, to take his place.
That was in 1901, and Bowers was to remain in journalism for a long time. He was with the Sentinel until 1903, when he found a position as editorial writer for Terre Haute Star. He remained with the Star for three years.
Active in Democratic politics from an early age, Bowers was the party’s nominee in 1904 and 1906 for the U.S. House of Representatives in the congressional district that included Terre Haute. From 1911 to 1917, he was secretary to John W. Kern, U.S. senator from Indiana. While working in Washington, D.C., during that period, he wrote political articles for a number of Indiana newspapers. In 1917, he became editor of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and remained in that position until 1923. During this period, he became well known for his weekly column, “Cabbages and Kings.” He joined the New York World in 1923, where he served as an editorial writer until the newspaper was sold in 1931. During the next two years, he wrote an independent signed political column in the New York Journal. The column also appeared in the other Hearst newspapers.
Meanwhile, Bowers had become recognized as an orator and a Democrat of national prominence. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1908. As a result of a speech he gave at the National Jackson Day dinner in Washington in 1928, he was selected as the keynote speaker and temporary chairman of the Democratic National Convention that year. He was again a delegate to the convention in 1932.
In 1933, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Spain, where he served during the Spanish Civil War. His sympathies were clearly with the Spanish republican government, and upon America’s recognition of Francisco Franco in 1939, he resigned as U.S. ambassador. Subsequently, however, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Chile, serving there until his retirement in 1953.
In addition to his active newspaper and diplomatic work, Bowers has also been recognized as a skilled researcher and writer in history and biography, particularly of the early days of the American republic. He was regarded as an authority on the life and ideas of Jefferson, being the author of a trilogy on Jefferson: Jefferson and Hamilton: the Struggle for Democracy (1925), Jefferson in Power: the Death Struggle of the Federalists (1936), and Young Jefferson: the Making of a Nation (1945).
Bowers was affiliated with the Lutheran church. He was married in Indianapolis on November 28, 1911, to Sybil, daughter of George McCaslin of that city, and had a daughter, Patricia. He died in New York City on Jan. 21, 1958.
Although Bowers spent only part of his professional life in actual newspaper work, he was obviously an accomplished journalist, having secured high editorial positions in the newspapers he worked with and having achieved fame through his articles.
Even while he was deeply entrenched in politics and diplomacy, his interest in practicing journalistic crafts evidently never subsided. He wrote many books. At least one of these, The Spanish Adventures of Washington Irving, was in the form of a novel.
One of his more noteworthy contributions to journalism was associated with his work in promoting Pan-American relations. In 1941, while serving as U.S. Ambassador to Chile, he initiated a plan which resulted in the employment of seven Chilean journalists as “guest employees” of seven United States newspapers — The Washington Star, The Washington Post, The Detroit News, The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.
Newsweek reported that President Roosevelt expressed hope that “other South American republics would copy the journalistic plan and that North American newspapers would reciprocate.”
Freda Kirchway, writing in The Nation of November 25, 1939 in an article entitled “New Deal Diplomat,” observed that Bowers was “a lot of things.” She might have added that in everything he did he was a high achiever.
An ambassador to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, he went beyond normal diplomatic duties to help those victimized by that war. He headed an organization to raise money for the care of Spanish children and served as intermediary in securing the first exchange of prisoners, and it was through his diplomatic efforts that many wounded and imprisoned American volunteers for the Spanish republican cause were repatriated. He assisted in evacuating American nationals from Spain early in the war, at one time using a U.S. Coast Guard cutter off the Spanish coast as his temporary embassy.
During the war, the diplomatic corps accredited to Spain were stationed on the French border and Bowers, ordered to that post, was the last to leave Spanish soil.
He was an accomplished historian and author. One of his books, The Tragic Era (1929), became a best seller. Among his other works were Irish Orators (1916), Life of John Worth Kern (1918), Party Battles of the Jackson Period (1922), William Maxwell Evarts (1928), Beveridge and the Progressive Era (1932) and Pierre Vergniaud, Voice of the French Revolution (1950). His diplomatic experiences were recorded in My Mission To Spain: Watching the Rehearsal for World War II (1954) and Chile Through Embassy Windows (1958). He was the editor of Diary of Elbridge Gerry Jr. (1927).
He also wrote and delivered addresses on historical subjects at various universities. As a result of a speech on Abraham Lincoln that he delivered in Indianapolis in 1921, the Lincoln Memorial Association was formed to acquire sites associated with Lincoln in Indiana, and Bowers was appointed the original director of that association. In 1926 he was appointed a member of the Sesquicentennial and Jefferson Centennial Commission by Calvin Coolidge and he served as secretary on that commission.
At the formal dedication of Monticello to the nation in 1926, Bowers was awarded the Jefferson Medal of the University of Virginia for his works on Jefferson and his dedication to Jeffersonian principles. He was awarded the Order of Merit by the Chilean government in 1939 and received the Order of Freedom from the U.S. government for his service in the cause of hemispheric solidarity during the Second World War.
Tufts College conferred on him an honorary M.A. degree in 1926. Honorary LL.D. degrees were granted him by the universities of Notre Dame and North Carolina in 1930, Oglethorpe University in 1932 and Indiana University in 1954. He was awarded an honorary Ph. D. degree by the University of Chile in 1951.
Bowers was an honorary member of the Chilean Academy of History and a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Andrew Jackson Society, and the National Press Club of Washington, D.C.