Financial History Issue 121 (Spring 2017) - Page 20


A Distinguished Career Gone Wrong

By Ron Hunka
Few Americans today would recognize the name of Robert Bernard Anderson . Yet , he was once the preferred choice of President Dwight Eisenhower over Richard Nixon to seek the Republican nomination for President in 1960 . Despite his rise from humble origins to positions of great power and trust in the public and private sectors , Anderson ’ s career ended in disgrace .
In 1910 , Robert Anderson was born on a poor cotton farm in Burleson , Texas , now a suburb of Fort Worth . After graduating from Weatherford College , he became a high school teacher . Ambitious , he found a path to upward mobility by graduating from law school at the top of his class at the University of Texas in 1932 . At age 23 , he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives . In 1933 , he was appointed assistant attorney general , and in 1934- 1935 he served as Texas State Tax Commissioner ( a post abolished in 1979 ). For the next two years , he was director of the Texas Unemployment Commission .
After his years in state government , Anderson accepted a transformational position as general counsel to the W . T . Waggoner Estate , which consisted of a vast ranch of over 500,000 acres . Second in size only to the King Ranch in south Texas , it stretched across several counties around the north Texas town of Vernon . Performing his duties in an exemplary way , Anderson later assumed responsibility for the operation of the entire $ 300 million enterprise upon becoming ranch manager in 1941 .
This change led him into dealing with , among other things , the mineral resources of the estate . In particular , his work negotiating large oil and gas leases gained him the attention of politically well-connected
Portrait of Robert B . Anderson by Elmer W . Greene , 1955 .
leaders in Texas , who backed Eisenhower for President in 1952 . Anderson soon joined them .
After Eisenhower ’ s election , he offered Anderson the position of Secretary of the Navy , which Anderson accepted , ending his 15-year association with the Waggoner Estate . As the President ’ s esteem for Anderson ’ s abilities grew , Eisenhower appointed him Deputy Director of Defense in 1954 . Three years later , Eisenhower brought Anderson back again , this time as Secretary of the Treasury . Remarkably , a man who had started out as a high school teacher now had his signature on his nation ’ s currency . The fact that the IRS now fell under his supervision was to prove ironic some years later when he fell from grace .
One of Anderson ’ s more memorable achievements as Eisenhower ’ s Secretary of the Treasury was to broker the so-called “ Treaty of the Rio Grande ,” a bi-partisan agreement worked out with two fellow Texans — Democratic Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson — not to pass a tax cut in 1958 favored by Republicans Vice President Richard Nixon and Labor Secretary James Mitchell . Anderson felt that a tax cut “ could bring huge slashes in tax revenues , in the face of a mounting deficit .” From today ’ s perspective , some would find Anderson ’ s action far-sighted .
As Eisenhower neared the end of his second term , he confided in Anderson that in the coming presidential election he would make “ the finest candidate we could have ,” though Eisenhower recognized that Nixon might already have the nomination wrapped up . Even if that were true , Eisenhower advised , Anderson would still make an excellent vice presidential candidate . But Anderson declined to seek either office , though he seems not to have completely articulated his reasons for doing
18 FINANCIAL HISTORY | Spring 2017 | www . MoAF . org