Nationally, Republicans did not gain ground in Congress, but they did not lose the ground they’d made up in 1938 either. Wilkie won Indiana by 25,000 votes — not a huge margin but not bad for a state that FDR had won by 240,000 in 1936.
The Republicans as a whole did well in Indiana, a performance that reaffirmed the direction taken in 1938 and suggested that Democratic victories during the first half of the decade had been out of step with more familiar Hoosier politics. Republicans won eight of twelve congressional seats, a gain of one, and scored a major victory when Raymond E. Willis defeated incumbent Sherman Minton for the United States Senate. Republicans took control of both houses of the state legislature and swept all state offices save one. The single exception scarcely challenged the proposition that under “normal” conditions, Indiana politics tended to be centrist, if not tilted somewhat to the right. Lieutenant-Governor Henry F. Schricker fashioned himself into a conservative “Jeffersonian” Democrat. Running for the state’s highest office, he distanced himself from the McNutt machine and, indeed, was barely a New Dealer. Schricker, whose political trademark was his large white hat, gave his campaign a personal touch as he visited county fairs and community gatherings, eating more fried chicken than he wanted and often sharing a “chaw” of tobacco to show he truly was one of the boys. Schricker won the governor’s race, defeating Glen R. Willis of Kokomo by little more than 10,000 votes.
Governor Schricker was elected as a Democrat and he faced a General Assembly that was Republican for the first time in years. The General Assembly pretty quickly tried to assert its authority and unwind some of what Paul McNutt had done in terms of focusing power in the hands of the executive branch. Schricker himself was in favor of the repeal of some of the governor’s powers. However, the bill presented to him went too far, reducing him (in his mind) to the status of an “errand boy.” He vetoed the bill, but the General Assembly needs only a simple majority to override a veto in Indiana, so they simply passed it again. The General Assembly continued their efforts and passed the State Administration Act of 1941 to further limit the governor’s authority.
The governor (a Democrat) and the Indiana Secretary of State, James Tucker (a Republican) filed suit and countersuit concerning the General Assembly’s assertion of authority. The Indiana Supreme Court was mostly Democratic at the time and gave the governor a victory, holding that the State Administration Act was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers which guaranteed the executive branch a certain amount of authority. Because the General Assembly met only once every other year, the General Assembly could not respond until 1943.
In 1943, the General Assembly limited the patronage system and imposed a merit system. It also revised the two-percent system so that both parties shared the proceeds; apparently believing that it became honest graft if the parties shared the spoils.
World War II
During the term of Governor Schricker, Indiana — like the rest of the country — became deeply involved in World War II. Approximately 363,000 Hoosiers served in the war and 10,000 died in service. Indiana produced $3.2 billion worth of war supplies and constructed factories valued at about a billion dollars. (This sort of thing gave a lot of support to Keynes theory that the way to get out of the Depression was just to spend a bunch of money, even if you were just going to blow up what you bought with it.) Our number of volunteers, per capita, was somewhat below average for the country while our war production, per capita, was above average (third in the nation as a ratio of population to production.) Indiana’s geographic qualities, among others, made it an attractive place for military contracts. By war’s end, the tate had “ten ordnance plants, seven air bases, six storage depots, five training camps, two great general hospitals, and the Army’s largest proving ground.” In the period from 1941 to 1943, the state went from a condition of severe unemployment to having a labor shortage.
There were growing pains. There was a synthetic rubber plant in Gary on which $5 million was spent but no rubber was ever produced. In Charlestown, where a $150 million powder plant was being constructed, the town of 900 could not accommodate the 13,000 construction workers. Federal money eventually arrived, providing for the construction of infrastructure and housing. However, Indiana’s sometimes anachronistic local government traditions interfered in at least one case. The township trustee canceled the construction of a $600,000 school project funded by the Public Works Administration after eight months of work had gone into it.
The defiant stand of the Charlestown Township trustee illustrates another aspect of the Hoosier’s grass-roots attitude toward the war—his tendency to be suspicious and perhaps hypercritical of anything which emanated from Washington. Much of this jaundice was undoubtedly justified but some of it was simply pig-headed—unfortunately it is not always possible to classify the reaction.
Describing the way Hoosier businessmen sometimes chafed at federal regulation, there is the shipbuilder who quipped that he had no trouble knowing when to launch a ship. He “simply weighed it every day and when the weight of the ship equalled the weight of the paper work on the contract, she was ready.”
Between 1940 and 1950, Indiana’s population increased by 500,000. The benefits were not, however, distributed equally. The war did not particularly improve the lot of the lower Wabash valley despite the construction of the Wabash River Ordnance Works, the Vigo Ordnance plant, and other war activity. Despite the population growth and economic activity, 18 counties in coal and agricultural areas lost population. Nevertheless, “the war unquestionably increased the prosperity and physical comfort (and taxes!) of virtually every resident of Indiana.”
The report linked above notes that discrimination continued against black people. It also noted the impact of the war on the nation’s children — school construction lagged and the classrooms were outdated; teachers were drafted into the war and lured out of the classrooms to higher paid war jobs; and kids had less supervision at home when women joined the workforce. Mental institutions, probably never very well-funded, got even worse. “Suffice it to say that the war simply aggravated almost beyond endurance the evils which had long haunted these places of misery—totally inadequate budgets, grossly underpaid and consequently incompetent personnel, and obsolete equipment. In 1942, Indiana ranked thirty-ninth among the forty-eight states in her provision for mental cases.” Indiana was also apparently a hotbed of Prostitution and venereal disease. Selective service doctors found syphilis in 3.4% of the people they examined — the highest rate north of the Ohio River.
Institutions of higher education took a hit during the war with professors and male students sent off to war. Wabash College was down to 10 civilian students in 1945. But, with some clever cost saving maneuvers and vigorous fund raising efforts, the state’s colleges pulled through.
The report of the War History Commission in 1956 concluded by asking a few questions:
The War History Commission was not told to write a history of Indiana’s intellectual response to the war: perhaps that cannot be done. Did World War II engender the same kind of hysteria in Hoosiers which led them to prohibit the teaching of German in the schools in 1917? Did Indiana succumb to the kind of postwar depravity which had fostered the Ku Klux Klan in the twenties? Did Hoosiers, on the other hand, achieve a new sense of world responsibility and a new understanding of world problems from their participation in the war? Perhaps they did. But the evidence is not yet complete and irrefutable. Only time, and future historians, will tell.