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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

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Spangler, Harrison Earl
(June 10, 1879–July 28, 1965)

–lawyer, Republican national committeeman, and chairman of the Republican National Committee—was born on a farm in Guthrie County, Iowa, the son of farmer and politician Zwingle B. and Martha (McManus) Spangler. After service in the Spanish-American War, he went to the State University of Iowa, receiving a law degree in 1905, and was admitted to the Iowa bar that same year.

    Having helped his father work for the GOP from a young age, Spangler undertook political work, helping to elect his law partner, James W. Good, to Congress in 1908. A staunch party loyalist, Spangler became chair of the Republican State Central Committee in 1930, a member of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 1931, and a member of the RNC executive committee in 1932.

    Spangler's rise to prominence in the national organization of the Republican Party coincided with the GOP's efforts to formalize its national structure and find a way for the party to remain competitive and relevant as an opposition party during the New Deal and World War II. Under RNC chairmen Henry P. Fletcher and John D. M. Hamilton, Spangler helped strengthen the party organization during the Roosevelt years. In the aftermath of the 1934 midterm elections, the RNC put Spangler in charge of an effort to use the Midwest as a base for revitalizing the national party organization. Building on virtually the lone bright spot in those years, the election of Alf Landon as governor of Kansas, Spangler helped lead a grassroots organizing cam paign. He established a series of Grass Roots Clubs and helped revitalize and encourage young Republican and women's organizations. During the presidential campaign of 1936, Spangler served as RNC executive vice-chairman for headquarters operations, and in the late 1930s played a leading role in advancing the cause of a vital and unified national party structure.

    With the outbreak of World War II, Spangler found himself in the middle of the Republican Party's divisions. After Wendell Willkie's defeat in the presidential election in 1940, the party remained clearly divided between two factions–a generally more isolationist "old guard" and those in the party who favored various degrees of internationalism. In addition, some in the party thought Willkie supporters were not being sufficiently attached to the party. Finally, there was the effort to create an ongoing institutionalized RNC organizational structure, distinct from the congressional apparatus and the party's presidential candidates.

    With the resignation of RNC chair Joseph W. Martin Jr. in late 1942, Spangler ascended to the chairmanship as a solid party man acceptable to all of the various factions. Spangler's selection was seen as a compromise between Willkie supporters and the old guard, led by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. Spangler's party loyalty and social conservatism made him a favorite of the old guard, while his cautious internationalism made him acceptable to Willkie supporters. His choice, however, also represented a victory for the party's emerging star, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Spangler had explored trying to deliver the Iowa delegation for Dewey in 1940 and had remained a correspondent of the governor.

    Internal debates over postwar policy posed the greatest immediate challenge for Chairman Spangler. Pushed by continued pressure from Willkie supporters and internationalists, Spangler formed the RNC Post-War Advisory Council to help shape the party's policy positions. He presided over the conference held by the council on Mackinac Island, Michigan, in September 1943. He worked closely behind the scenes with Dewey, and as a result the governor gained more influence within the party organization. The conference foreign policy declaration embraced a cautious internationalism favored by Dewey. The domestic policy declaration represented a closer working relationship between Dewey and the party old guard. It also was part of an increasingly anti-New Deal trend by the RNC during Spangler's chairmanship. Spangler presided over the 1944 convention that nominated Dewey and worked behind the scenes to ensure that Willkie was excluded from any role.

    Herbert Brownell replaced Spangler as chairman of the RNC in 1944. Spangler then became general counsel. For the rest of his life, Spangler remained a party loyalist. He continued as a member of the national committee until 1952 and was a prominent supporter of Senator Taft's efforts to secure the GOP presidential nomination. Even after his retirement from Iowa to Oregon, Spangler continued his interest in partisan politics. During Democratic Senator Wayne Morse's reelection campaign in 1962, Spangler wrote a book titled The Record of Wayne Morse in which he attacked the senator for being soft on Communism and for switching from the Republican Party. Although thousands of copies of the work were distributed, Morse was easily reelected. Spangler died in Oregon at age 86.
Sources Spangler's papers are in the University of Oregon Library, Eugene. See also Michael J. Anderson, "The Presidential Election of 1944" (Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1990); and Ralph Goldman, The National Party Chairmen and Committees: Factionalism at the Top (1990).
Contributor: Michael J. Anderson

Cite as: Anderson, Michael, J. "Spangler, Harrison Earl" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 21 September 2018