David R. Henderson  

FDR Seizes Avery's Yacht

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While playing around on the web this weekend, I found the following link. I had known about FDR sending in the National Guard to physically carry Sewell Avery out of his office and, in fact, posted about it earlier this year. What I had not known is that two years earlier, FDR had seized Avery's private yacht. I find this is outrageous. But I can't find out much about it. If you click on the link to find out more, you get a dead link.

Question: does anyone know more about this? Specifically,
1. What action by Avery occurred before FDR did this?
2. How did FDR justify his action?
3. Did Avery sue to get his yacht back?
4. Did FDR pay something for the yacht or did he just take it?

As co-blogger Bryan Caplan says, please show your work.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
david writes:

The relevant 1942 executive order. The relevant 1936 legislation.

There was no obligation for the government to return the vessels (it could opt to keep them and pay only 'just compensation', although how this is to be determined is complicated, and both jurisprudence and legislation eventually granted the President's emergency agencies a great deal of discretion to determine that amount). Many ships were not returned, but were instead sold.

I have no clue if Avery was paid, or how much. That seems like a task for someone patient enough to dig through the National Archives.

david writes:

In any case, I would find it pretty hard to believe that the 1942 EO was in response to Sewell Avery, specifically, rather than several hundred German submarines. Your cite itself doesn't source its claim that these events were related, and failing to mention that Avery's yacht was one of thousands of civilian ships requisitioned suggests some disingenuousness.

David R. Henderson writes:

@david,
Thanks. Interesting, though, how much a government official with discretion will push his discretion. A law and an executive order whose purpose was to provide ships in wartime is used to provide the president’s yacht.

The Wayback Machine remembers that page.

(A lot of the text is the same as in the post that linked to it, though.)

David Boaz writes:

The New York Times does casually say it was seized "after" Avery's refusal to play ball with a labor union. It doesn't seem to occur to the Times reporter that that's a striking exercise of power. But I can't find any details.
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/15/nyregion/on-the-auction-block-the-yacht-of-camelot.html

MikeDC writes:

A law and an executive order whose purpose was to provide ships in wartime is used to provide the president’s yacht.

Based on the links I see, It does seem that the yacht was used for the purpose of naval training in WWII. Presumably Sewell was compensated, so after the point it became government property one could make the case it was reasonable to make it a presidential yacht or anything else.

ThomasH writes:

FDR could have allowed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of European Jews immigrate to this country and you criticize him for seizing a yacht?

David R. Henderson writes:

@MikeDC,
Based on the links I see, It does seem that the yacht was used for the purpose of naval training in WWII.
Which links are you referring to?
@ThomasH,
FDR could have allowed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of European Jews immigrate to this country and you criticize him for seizing a yacht?
Yes. I also criticize him for his evil restrictions on immigrations. There’s no mutual exclusivity here.

Ruy Diaz writes:
FDR could have allowed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of European Jews immigrate to this country and you criticize him for seizing a yacht?

There is something poignantly petty about FDR's actions here. Glad Mr. Henderson found the story.

MikeDC writes:

@ David R Henderson,
The Wayback link above says

Renamed the Lenore 2, she was used as a training ship for submarine crews in Portsmouth New Hampshire and later as an escort for the Presidential Yacht Williamsburg. The Lenore frequently carried the secret service agents who accompanied the President while he was aboard the 255 foot yacht.

In 1953, President Eisenhower retired the splendid but costly Williamsburg from active service, authorizing the refurnishing and overhauling of Lenora II at a cost of $200,000. She was rechristened Barbara Ann in honor of his granddaughter and was used for occasional cruises, and in the summers of 1957 and 1958 she sailed to Newport, Rhode Island where she conveyed the president to and from his golfing excursions.

https://web.archive.org/web/20090905172032/http://home.mchsi.com/~cbretvet/Yachts/Yachts3.html

It in no way makes things "ok", of course. It's actually a pretty typical example of the government going about efficiency. They seize the ship, probably mostly to prove that they can. They actually do try to train with it, but I can't imagine a 94 foot luxury yacht was a very effective training platform for submariners, so then they used it to stuff secret service agents on it because they wouldn't fit on FDR's already outsized yacht.

Then, Ike, because he was less imperial than FDR, is perfectly willing to downsize to the 94' luxury yacht, but he still spends a couple hundred thousand for, I guess, propriety's sake on making the less expensive yacht fit for use.

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