Friday, December 27, 2013

George E. Foulkes: postal service shakedown

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George Ernest Foulkes would earn a seat in the House of Representatives based on a solid background of government service and agricultural work. He would be ousted soon after amid accusations that he was using his new position for personal gain.

Foulkes was born in Chicago on Christmas Day of 1878. After attending the public schools, he studied law at Lake Forest University and graduated the same year. He was admitted to the bar the same year and began working as a special agent for the United States Treasury Department. The work brought him to bureaus in New York City, the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and El Paso, Texas. Foulkes remained in this service until 1919.

It was not until he settled down to another line of work that Foulkes began to show interest in politics. He moved to Hartford, Michigan, in 1920 to begin pursuing agriculture. Four years later, he appeared as a delegate to the Democratic state convention. He returned to this summit in 1926 and 1928. Finally, in 1932, Foulkes won a seat in the House of Representatives.

Foulkes gave special attention to agricultural issues while in Congress. In March of 1934, he asked that United States beet and cane sugar producers be given special preference over Cuban growers. There were signs that Foulkes was not content to remain in the House, however. He announced that he would put his name up for consideration in the year's Senate race if former Detroit mayor Frank Murphy, the governor-general of the Philippines, decided against running. Foulkes argued that since the sitting senator was from Detroit, it would make more sense to have the other seat occupied by a person from the western part of Michigan. The Farmer-Labor Party named him as their candidate for Michigan's gubernatorial election, but Foulkes declined the nomination.

The ugly allegations that surfaced shortly before the 1934 election ensured that Foulkes would be unlikely to win any elected office he sought to pursue. In August of 1934, Foulkes was accused of trying to solicit campaign donations from Michigan postmasters in order to guarantee their continued appointments. Postal authorities began investigating the matter after Edmund N. Cook, who acted as postmaster at Allegran between November 1933 and spring of 1934, agreed to pay Foulkes $20 on an assessment of $250 and promptly brought this piece of evidence to the attention of his superiors. At the general election, Foulkes lost to Republican candidate Clare Hoffman.

The investigation unveiled enough evidence to indict Foulkes and two others. Foulkes was charged with conspiracy. Elmer Smith, a former postmaster, was accused of solicitation of funds. Daniel Gerow, a former Shiawassee County sheriff and Democratic state central committee leader who had been considered the likely person to be U.S. marshal for Michigan's western district, was accused of both crimes.

Several postmasters had sworn affidavits alleging similar behavior to that charged by Cook. Gerow was accused of approaching 27 postmasters with a letter written by Foulkes, which suggested that the postmasters' permanent appointments would not be approved unless they contributed 10 percent of their assessments to the congressman's campaign fund. One postmaster, Ed Hackman, said he first received the demand by a letter delivered by Gerow and later in a conference where Foulkes made the threat directly to him.

Gerow quickly changed his plea from not guilty to no contest, and Smith followed suit. Foulkes was convicted at a trial in November of 1935 and ordered to serve 18 months in prison and pay a $1,000 fine. Gerow was ordered to pay $2,800 in fines--$200 on each of his 14 indictments--or go to prison. Smith was fined $500 and also told that he would go to jail if he could not raise the money.

Foulkes was paroled in June of 1936 and returned to farming. He continued in this line of work, writing on agricultural issues and becoming active in farm organization work. In 1958, an article in the Toledo Blade reported a perplexing offer Foulkes had made to bequeath his estate to a poor British farm boy. The article said that Foulkes had seven farms in North Dakota totaling about 6,000 acres and that the British Embassy was working to find a recipient.

The report correctly identified Foulkes as a Hartford resident, though his age was slightly off and it put his birthplace as Shropshire, England. This suggests that Foulkes chose to make the offer to another George Foulkes across the pond, a Shropshire native who shared his name and was serving as a member of Parliament.

The offer came not long before Foulkes' death. He passed away in Hartford on December 13, 1960.

Sources: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Vigorous Fight is Being Carried on to Save the Sugar Industry" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Mar. 2 1934, "Foulkes May Enter in Senate Contest" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Mar. 7 1934, "Postal Inspectors Look Into Charges" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Aug. 18 1934, "Warrants Are Issued Today" in the Owosso Argus-Press on May 3 1935, "Evidence Links Gerow, Foulkes in Conspiracy" in the Owosso Argus-Press on Nov. 19 1935, "Geo. Foulkes Starts Term in U.S. Prison" in the News-Palladium on Nov. 25 1935, "Parole is Granted Former Congressman" in the Southeast Missourian on Jun. 15 1936, "Michigan Resident to Give Farm to Poor British Boy" in the Toledo Blade on May 10 1958


Kerry said...

My 94 yr old uncle told me about this, and I found your site after I wanted to test his memory. Turns out his recall is amazing. Because of Edmund M. Cook's whistleblowing, he became persona-non-grata in Allegan County, he lost his own postmaster's position, and was ostrasized by the Democratic party to which he was so loyal. In the middle of the Depression, it was hard on the previously successful businessman to suddenly find it hard to feed his six children. Edmund Cook of Allegan Michigan was my grandfather - my father was Grover Cook and his brother, Rodgers, was the one who told me this story. Thank you for posting this.

Dirk Langeveld said...

Thanks for sharing this information! It's always interesting when readers can add more to these profiles.