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Role respected U.S. Senate leader of the 1940s fondly remembered

Isolationist Vandenberg became international statesman

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan - A Dutch American who turned from being an outspoken isolationist into a respected leader in international politics will have his picture unveiled this year in the U.S. Capitol as one of seven great Senate leaders. The portrait of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, a conservative from Grand Rapids (GR), will be added together with one of New York, liberal Democrat Robert Wagner.

A local GR group has plans to honour Vandenberg’s significant influence in the form of a 9-ft bronze statue downtown. Vandenberg, a lawyer who became publisher of the former Grand Rapids Herald, was appointed a Senator in 1928 by Michigan governor Fred Green to fill a vacancy. Vandenberg was elected a few months later and re-elected three times to a six-year term. He resigned in 1950 due to ill health and died the following year. Arthur was the uncle of famed U.S. Air Force Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg.

Vandenberg as a Republican played a key role in the formation of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also was a delegate to the Paris Peace conference. Gen. George C. Marshall, architect of the post-war effort to rebuild Europe, called the Senator his ‘right hand man’. His support for President Truman’s initiatives abroad was key to getting them through Congress.

Earlier, Vandenberg earned wide support for his opposition to President F.D. Roosevelt’s economic policies, coined the New Deal. He also spoke out against the National Recovery Administration (NRA) which later was declared unconstitutional, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the Works Projects Administration (WPA). The word “boondoggle” specifically was coined to describe these massive and costly programs.

Interest in Vandenberg’s legacy has risen in recent years, coinciding with efforts by grocery chain CEO Hank Meijer who is writing a biography on GR’s famous son. Since the 1980s, local attention often has focussed on former President Gerald R. Ford as a local figure who was propelled to the world stage. Ford is part of the Vandenberg statue committee.

The other five Senate illuminaries are Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Robert LaFollette and Robert Taft.