Friday, December 31, 2010

Chapter II -- Setting Sail

Born November 21, 1921 in Bicknell, Indiana, McNaughton moved with his family (circa 1926) to Pekin, Illinois where he would graduate in three years from the public high school. There he and excelled as a student, a debater and a tennis player.   His business savvy newspaper publisher father F. F. McNaughton had a strong belief in the importance of world knowledge, so after graduation John McNaughton traveled with his family for eight months on four continents.[1]   As McNaughton was selecting a college, his father wrote a newspaper column about his answer to a college application question that asked “What do you want your boy to achieve?”  The senior McNaughton, in a faux down-home tone that years later his son would occasionally employ to disarm Pentagon reporters, responded “I am not caring about his being crammed full of book larnin’, but I do want him to get enough background of European and American history and politics that he can become one of the next generation that will give intelligent direction involving the problems which MUST be solved if American democracy is to survive.  I want him to get a background from which he can move in the direction of the correct answers to the problems of American lawlessness, American labor unrest and economic distress, the negro problem and the REvival and SURvival of Christianity.”

McNaughton chose DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1942.   He departed college facing a world at war, enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned an Ensign.  Despite a susceptibility to seasickness that necessitated bringing a bucket to the bridge during high seas[i], McNaughton commanded a gun crew on a merchant ship in the Caribbean and in the North Atlantic, and later served on a destroyer escort in the Pacific.   For his service on the Atlantic which included service on a Liberty Ship plying the “Murmansk Run” McNaughton was awarded a medal by the Soviet Union which credited him with saving a shipload of munitions from Nazi U-boats when he brought a torpedoed vessel to port after its captain had abandoned ship.

After the war, McNaughton entered Harvard Law School in 1946, graduating magna cum laude 1948.  Named a Rhodes Scholar while at Harvard, McNaughton studied for a year at Oxford, then took a year’s leave to be an aide to Averill Harriman (under Harvard Law professor Milton Katz) on the Marshall Plan [ii] working on the European Payments Union, and finally returned to Oxford to fulfill the requirements for the B. Litt. in International Trade.”  [iii]   While at Oxford, McNaughton was exposed to liberal views that contrasted with those of his conservative family.     


Returning from Oxford in 1951, McNaughton settled in Pekin with wife Sally who he had met at DePauw.  Politically, the McNaughtons were kindred spirits, both being “Stevenson liberals”, but their personalities clearly differed.  The daughter of a civil engineer and a domineering mother, Sally McNaughton was, according to their son Alex, “just a regular human like the rest of us.”   A difference in family cultures was humorously illustrated by a 1952 McNaughton diary entry privately showing his inclination for rational decision-making and expressing frustrations with his mother-in-law’s way of thinking after she visited the young couple.   “Reason gets nowhere with her – as it fails to get anywhere with many – because of her revulsion against logic.  Whereas I try to start with a premise and work toward a conclusion, she starts with the conclusion & only toys with the premises.  She’ll listen to the process until she suspects that the result will be something other than her foregone conclusion.  She thinks with her solarplexis (sic).  She is governed by unreasoned prejudices.” [iv]   John McNaughton processed information using logic; Sally McNaughton like her mother, tended to be emotional and sometimes volatile.  However, said son Alex McNaughton, “No one was rational like my Dad.” 


After returning home, McNaughton tried out different career options.  He briefly worked on the assembly line at nearby Peoria’s Caterpillar Tractor, attempting to join the union so he could better understand the viewpoints of industrial workers.  And he spent two years from 1951-1953 as editor of his family’s newspaper, where he was described by the editor of neighboring Peoria Journal Star as one who “never performed in his newspaper work for one moment in the language of the Harvard graduate school.” [v]  


In April, 1952, a local Democratic political power broker approached McNaughton about running for office.  McNaughton’s diary exposed a growing restlessness with the pace of life in his small town: “I surely need a good hobby.  Maybe it should be sketching.  So I can carry my pen, ruler & notebook with me to odd places.  Add that to some woodworking – maybe even carving – and I’d be fixed.”  Early in May, McNaughton went to see the Democratic leader about running for Congress, even though both of them assessed the odds of winning as “negligible.”

McNaughton ran in the Illinois 18th District in 1952 as a Democrat, even though he had struggled with a party choice until the spring when he saw that his chances for nomination looked better on the Democratic ticket.  As the party decision loomed, McNaughton wrote in his diary that “a vacancy exists on the Demo slate” and recounted a local party official saying that he could “get the Demo party appointment” for McNaughton.  McNaughton finally consented, saying in his diary that “if Taft [2] nominated by GOP, I could wholeheartedly represent opposition to his view point.  I’ve about decided I am not a Republican, although I could be if the complexion of the party would change from a Taft-like to a Teddy Roosevelt-like here.  It is possible that Eisenhower will provide that change of emphasis, but from his pronouncements on domestic affairs, I doubt it.”  He mused “But to choose a party is a job.  Any political party and any election race is so messy.  Principles confused, shady elements, ‘deals’ forced on you, etc.  We’ll see what comes of it.” [vi]

Campaigning did not come naturally to McNaughton.  On July 4, 1952, he wrote in his diary “…it was tough at first to force myself on these people.   One noon, I was almost sick at my stomach at the thought of going through that afternoon.  But the last couple days, it didn’t bother me. Got used to it, I guess.” [vii]   Facing tough odds in a Republican district and in an Eisenhower year, McNaughton campaigned hard.   With fund raising assistance from his Republican father and brother, the newly minted Democrat knocked on doors, posed for photo opps and analyzed strategy options. [3]   “I must have shaken 10,000-15,000 hands in the week.  My hand is bruised and sore,” wrote McNaughton in his diary that summer, “but, by golly, if they don’t know I exist now, they’re both blind and deaf.”  [viii]  

McNaughton managed a majority in his conservative leaning home county and the more politically balanced Peoria County, but the Illinois 18th District’s staunchly Republican northern counties tilted the race in his opponent’s favor. [ix]    McNaughton’s opponent, conservative Republican Harold H. Velde, was an attorney who had been an F.B.I. special agent during World War II and after winning the congressional seat became chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era.  McNaughton’s diary admitted that “The defeat on Nov. 4 was not unexpected – since no Demo has made the grade since 1912 when Teddy split the GOP and carried this district.  However it did leave a bit of a vacuum in my schedule.”[x]    By early 1953, McNaughton’s confided to himself that there were “… several conversations lately that indicate I am a bit out of touch with the area.  My concept of freedom – especially freedom of thought is considered radical.” [xi]  




[1] In 1944, McNaughton’s father F. F. McNaughton raised $5,000 for the world travels of then-congressman Everett Dirksen when Dirksen was briefly considered as the Republican Presidential nominee in 1944 and whom F.F. McNaughton thought needed more international exposure to round out his experience.

[2] Taft’s stringently conservative economic views and neo-isolationism had little appeal to Democratic or independent voters, whom the GOP needed at the time to attract to have any hope of winning the national elections.

[3] In the aftermath of the Vietnam escalation and the failed involvement, some analysts cited the Pentagon and White House leaders’ collective lack of political experience as a reason for their insularity in making decisions about the conflict, and their subsequent over reliance on empirical data and statistical models.  Ironically, it was McNaughton who was perhaps most criticized for being overly rational in  making decisions who had experience running for office, and who was in fact quietly planning to run again.

[i]                Interview with Mrs. Robert I Paullin, 2003
[ii]               Janes, Thomas W. 
[iii]               Janes, Thomas W.
[iv]              John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 3 9/25/51-9/7/1952
[v]               C.L. Dancey editorial, Peoria Journal Star, July 20, 1967
[vi]              John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 3 9/25/51-9/7/1952
[vii]             John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 3 9/25/51-9/7/1952
[viii]            John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 3 9/25/51-9/7/1952
[ix]              C.L. Dancey editorial, Peoria Journal Star, July 20, 1967
[x]               John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 4  9/21/1952-9/9/1953
[xi]              John T. McNaughton private diary, Volume 3 9/25/51-9/7/1952

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