Herbert Lehman (1928-1956)

A leading liberal in New York State politics from 1928 to 1956, Herbert Lehman was born in New York City in 1878 and graduated from Williams College in 1899. A few years after joining his family's banking firm in 1908, Lehman entered public service for the first time as a civilian employee of the United States Army during World War I.

After the war, Lehman became active in Democratic politics, eventually becoming finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1928 and lieutenant governor of New York the same year. It was at this time that Lehman became close friends with the Roosevelts, particularly with ER, whom Lehman would continue to work with for the rest of his life. Lehman remained lieutenant governor under Franklin Roosevelt until Roosevelt departed for the White House in 1932, whereupon Lehman was elected to the governorship – a job he remained in until 1942. Lehman's financial background served him well while in Albany; as governor, Lehman slashed state income taxes, turned the state's budget deficit into a sizable surplus, and presided over a "Little New Deal" program that sought to regulate utilities and enact labor reforms.

After leaving the governor's mansion, Lehman was appointed to the directorship of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, a position he retained from 1943 to 1946. In 1949, he defeated John Foster Dulles in a special Senate election to fill a vacancy left by the death of Robert Wagner. He won reelection to the Senate in 1950, serving one full term until 1956. While in the Senate, Lehman actively opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy and worked for the reform of immigration laws and civil rights. Although he left after only one full Senate term, Lehman remained actively engaged in promoting the progressive wing of the New York Democratic party and in 1959 he successfully joined forces with his old friend, ER, to destroy the Tammany Hall machine in New York politics. For his broad contributions, Lehman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Kennedy in 1963, the same year he died.



The Concise Dictionary of American Biography. 5th ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997, 717.

Graham, Otis L., Jr., and Meghan Robinson Wander. Franklin D. Roosevelt, His Life and Times. New York: Da Capo Press, 1985, 238-239.