Andrew Mellon: A Study in Conservative American History

September 14, 2014



The story of Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) is lab in American conservatism. There are at least three reasons: (1) his business success, (2) his political acumen, and (3) his philanthropy.

Business Success. He became one of the richest men in America through successful business ventures across numerous industries. His businesses gave jobs to tens of thousands of Americans while advancing the economy.

Political Success. He served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 to 1932 under three presidents: Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Working with President Coolidge, Mellon was instrumental in reviving the country from the depression of 1920-21. Unlike the later big government tactics of FDR in the 1930’s—which dragged the Great Depression on for a decade—the Mellon/Coolidge plan reduced the burden of government and brought a quick end to the depression of 1920-21. This ushered in the fabulously successful Roaring Twenties. The Mellon/Coolidge plan cut the top income tax rate from 77 to 24 percent, which helped put large fortunes back into the economy. And under their leadership, the federal debt was cut from $22 billion to $17 billion.

Philanthropy. He was active in numerous philanthropic endeavors. The biggest was a $50 million gift of art and funding for the establishment of the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1937. Mellon refused to have his name associated with the gift. This is a demonstration how private wealth is important for cultural good.

The Coolidge/Mellon legacy is a study of how effective limited government can be compared to liberal big-government meddling in the economy. FDR believed that you could raise up the lower class by bringing down the rich. But, liberal-progressivism proved to be a total failure. (Too bad modern progressives refuse to learn this lesson from history.)

Mellon became a target of FDR’s despicable class warfare in both taxation policy and lawsuit harassment. Mellon was exonerated in FDR’s attempt to entrap the former Treasury Secretary for tax evasion.

For more on this remarkable story, see:


Also highly recommended is the book THE FORGOTTEN MAN by Amity Shlaes.

One comment

  1. I share your admiration for Andrew W. Mellon. But let’s face it: the big government policies that perpetuated the depression started with Hebert Hoover, who routinely ignored Mellon’s good advice.

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