By Jody Brumage
Five years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Philadelphia physician, educator, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, lamented “Among the defects which have been pointed out in the federal constitution by its antifederal enemies, it is much to be lamented that no person has taken notice of its total silence upon the subject of an office of the utmost importance to the welfare of the United States, that is, an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country.” Printed by the African American publisher Benjamin Banneker in his 1793 almanac, the sentiments expressed by Rush are the foundation of a movement that has persisted to the present day in the United States: the goal of creating a Department of Peace. West Virginia has played a significant role in advocating for this cause.
The movement for a peace department found strong support beginning in the 1930s in West Virginia, whose congressional delegation, made up largely of progressive New Deal democrats, was led by the influential Senator Matthew Mansfield Neely. The first legislation to propose a cabinet-level peace agency was introduced by Senator Neely in 1935 during the 74th Congress. Failing to gain wide support, Senator Neely reintroduced the legislation twice in 1937 and 1939, the first three of the over one hundred subsequent bills introduced with the goal of establishing a peace office within the executive branch. Senator Neely’s sudden departure from Congress in 1940 to become Governor of West Virginia brought an abrupt end to his role in bringing about the proposed department, but five years later, World War II reignited calls for permanent peacemaking organizations around the world. Successors to Neely in West Virginia's congressional delegation took up his mantle, including Jennings Randolph, Harley O. Staggers, Melvin Snyder, and Robert Byrd.
Born on a Ritchie County farm in 1882, Davis received an education from Mountain State Business College in Parkersburg while also working for a pipe line company, where he learned telegraphy, which in turn led him to work for several railroad companies until he married Fannie Wilson in 1905. Upon marriage, Raymond and Fannie moved west to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a streetcar operator for two years. After returning to West Virginia in 1907, Raymond began working and investing in railroad, timber, hotel, and coal mining companies and a decade later in 1918 organized the Davis Coal Company. Within two years, the company grew to operating eight mines generating 4,000 tons of coal per day. At its height, the company employed over 500 miners working in West Virginia's Fairmont Coalfield.
Davis’ prosperity enabled him to engage with West Virginia’s state and national political figures, and he used these opportunities to lobby for his chief interest, the creation of an international peacekeeping organization, centered in the United States. Davis published his ideas for a peace department in a book entitled Proposed New International Order in 1942. Two years later, after the United States’ entry into World War II, Davis met with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to share his ideas. By the end of the war, his influence with the president led to his appointment as an observer at the San Francisco Conference in the spring of 1945 where the charter of the United Nations was drafted. Upon his return from the conference, Davis testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as they considered legislation introduced by Indiana Representative Louis Ludlow to create a domestic peace department (the first bill attempted since Senator Neeley’s efforts before World War II). His testimony was covered in newspapers across the country and a few months later, a renewed proposal for the peace department was introduced in the House by West Virginia Congressman (and future Senator) Jennings Randolph. Davis' second book, The World Begins to Live, was published in 1946.
Two of Congressman Staggers' speeches on the U.N. and peace can be read below:
For over twenty-years, some of the most ardent support for creating a cabinet-level office concerned with brokering and maintaining international peace was found in West Virginia’s congressional delegation and especially through the efforts of Raymond Moses Davis.
“I believe firmly that people the world over are today ready to follow a leadership that has as its main objective a warless world.”
Raymond M. Davis, The World Begins to Live, 1946.