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Stanley Fletcher Morse Papers, 1900-1975

"The first question which presents itself is whether we are to sit here and allow the surrounding conditions to control us, or are we going to control them. The progressive man is never contented until he has successfully surmounted all the obstacles in his path; and as far as that goes he never is contented, for he is always climbing."

In 1907, Stanley F. Morse wrote these words in an agricultural report with regard to the feasibility of constructing a reservoir in a Mexican town; however, the prose also could have described his commitment to civic and political action. Stanley Morse was not one to let his environment control him; he devoted much of his life to forwarding the causes he believed to be true. Morse enjoyed a long and active professional life-first as an agricultural engineer and a consultant and later as the founder and president of the Grass Roots League, a patriotic organization dedicated to preserving traditional American government and combating the forces of communism. In this collection are the reminiscences of a man devoted to upholding a traditional America; through countless editorial letters, essays, speeches, and articles researchers may study the development of a career that spanned two World Wars, the Great Depression, McCarthyism, and the Civil Rights Era.

Stanley Fletcher Morse was born in Watertown, Mass., on 15 September 1884 to Harry F. and Emma Bean Morse. The oldest of three children, Morse graduated from Watertown High School and attended the Massachusetts Agricultural College before transferring to Harvard College's Bussey Institute to study agriculture and economics. In 1906, Morse graduated from Harvard and accepted a position in Mexico, where he worked as the assistant field manger at Cia Agricola del Tiahualilo, a cotton plantation. He spent several years in Mexico, but maintained his connections to North America through his role as the assistant managing editor of the agricultural journal The Country Gentleman. During this time, he conducted a long-distance courtship with Elizabeth Fenn Leonard of Albany, N.Y. While in Mexico (Elizabeth joined him after their marriage in 1910), Morse also served as an agriculturist for the National Railways and for the Mexico Express Company.

His tenure in Mexico complete, Morse returned to the United States and settled in Arizona, where he accepted a position as lecturer and director of the Agricultural Extension Service at the University of Arizona from 1913 to 1916. During this time, he also served as a state leader of county agents for the United States Department of Agriculture in Arizona. In 1916, Morse and Elizabeth, along with their son Stanley, Jr., moved to New Orleans, where he started a successful consulting firm, Morse Agricultural Service. In 1926, a consulting project led Morse to Sumter, where he inspected farms for Judge J.H. Marion of Chester. In 1927, the Morse family relocated to South Carolina and purchased Edgehill Plantation at Stateburg in Sumter County. Around this time, they also either purchased or rented a second home in Rockville on Wadmalaw Island.

During the mid-1930s, Morse grew wary of federal programs and argued that many of President Roosevelt's New Deal policies were aimed at inculcating socialistic policies on American farmers. In 1935 he incorporated the Farmers' Independence Council of America, an organization that fought the regimentation of American farming. He claimed that "the Agricultural Adjustment Act is an attempt by the United States Government to aid and stimulate the recovery of agriculture by legislative and administrative means...It impliedly assumes that there is inherent in government a power greater than that of the human beings who compose it. Perhaps it is a hangover from the days of the absolute monarchy, when the king was presumed to reign by divine appointment and to possess superhuman omniscience." A persuasive writer, Morse voiced his opposition to government regimentation, subsidization, and crop controls in numerous editorial letters and in correspondence to government officials.

Morse's expertise in the field of agriculture led him to a civilian position with the United States government during World War II. At the age of 59, Morse left the United States for two years to serve with the Foreign Economics Administration as the Chief of the American Food Mission to French North Africa and as the Chief of the Food Division to the North African Joint Economic Mission. Morse was stationed in Morocco but traveled throughout the continent. Both projects strove to alleviate food production problems in North Africa.

In 1947, Morse and a group of Charleston residents organized the Charleston County Citizens' League, a local branch of the Citizens Councils of America. The organization strove to "promote better citizenship, better government and the American system in County, State, and Nation and to combat socialism by giving the true facts to the people." The League advocated the preservation of a traditional constitutional form of government and hoped to thwart attempts by politicians to regiment citizens. Morse, in his role as president, opposed government's role in business and agriculture and demanded that unnecessary expenses be cut and that inflationary policies be stopped. He also lobbied for a strong foreign policy program and opposed "attempts to promote or finance International Socialism under the guise of national defense." Perhaps the League's greatest achievement was the success of its lobbying effort to institute a county council-manager form of government in Charleston County in 1948.

As Morse grew increasingly involved in the Citizens' League, he noted that there was a real need on the part of the organization to perform more services for citizens and to reach out to patriotic Americans beyond Charleston. Morse explained that "the Citizen's League, realizing that misgovernment in Washington was harmful to the county and every citizen in it, decided to undertake a campaign to arouse citizens to action to safeguard their interests through publicity and organization." Thus, he formed the Citizen's Grass Roots Crusade in 1951 (legally incorporated in 1954 and renamed the Grass Roots League). As an outgrowth of the Charleston Citizens' League, the Grass Roots League was ostensibly a non-profit and non-political organization. As a patriotic society, it was devoted to civic fact-finding and to furnishing reliable information to the public. According to Morse, it represented "good government, states rights, local self-government and individual freedom."

The records of this organization offer a unique window onto conservative American ideologies during the tumultuous McCarthy era of the 1950s. More so than the Charleston Citizens' League, the Grass Roots League focused on the detrimental effects of communism and socialism in this country, and its members espoused an unyielding foreign policy platform towards Soviet Russia and China. The Grass Roots League's research department published numerous pamphlets and tracts outlining the threat of communism and the role it was perceived to be playing in government policy, race relations, and religion. Morse saw the destructive forces of communism at work in all aspects of society. His speeches, articles, and editorial letters grew increasingly fervent during this time period. He corresponded frequently with state senators as well as members of the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities. He obtained transcripts of hearings and kept copious notes on the activities of alleged communists within South Carolina and across the South.

Following a long illness, Elizabeth Morse died in 1962; at this time Morse assumed a less public role in the Grass Roots League. While still very concerned that the organization continue to propound the principles he espoused, Morse-at the age of 78-decided to step away from his active leadership role. In 1964 he married Carolyn Gillespie Mellette. They enjoyed eleven years together until Morse's death at the age of 91 on 9 April 1975. While Morse may have curtailed his professional activities in the last decade of his life, he nevertheless continued to express his opinions in editorial letters that discussed segregation, urban renewal, the Vietnam War, and Christianity; in fact, he wrote his last letter only days before his death. It was published posthumously.

The papers of Stanley F. Morse consist of approximately thirty linear feet of materials that document his personal life, his career as an agriculturist, and his involvement in the Grass Roots League. Contextually, the papers span three quarters of the twentieth century, dating from 1900 to 1975. The collection is divided into five series: Personal Papers, Agriculture, Political and Civic Involvement, Photographs, and Publications.

Personal papers series are divided into two subseries: Biographical and Family/Personal Correspondence. Included are childhood memorabilia, class notes from Harvard University, newspaper clippings, family histories, nineteenth century family deeds, awards, and personal family effects, and correspondence.

The Agriculture unit is divided into eight subseries: Early Career (Mexico, Arizona), 1906-1917; Consulting Service, 1917-1948; Agriculture, the Great Depression, and the New Deal, 1930-1942; World War II, North Africa Joint Economic Mission, 1943-1946; Correspondence, 1907-1947; General Topical Files; Morse's Agricultural Writings and Speeches; and Topographical Maps. In general, this series documents Morse's lengthy career as an agricultural engineer; it reflects his interests in soil conservation, farm efficiency, and the development of the concept of agribusiness.

Divided into five subseries, the Political and Civic Involvement files chronicle Morse's interest and involvement in the American political scene from the 1930s to his death in 1975. The series is divided as follows: Early Political Involvement; Charleston County Citizens' League/Grass Roots League; Morse's Political Writings/Speeches; and General Topical Files. Correspondence in this series includes letters to and from a variety of public figures, including the following twentieth- century political personages: William Stephenson (editor, The Virginian), Mark W. Clark, William Loeb (Manchester, N.H., Union Leader), L. Mendel Rivers, Strom Thurmond, Mrs. William F. Buckley, Jesse Helms, Styles Bridges, Joseph Martin, James F. Byrnes, and Herbert Hoover.

Photographs are divided into two subseries: Personal and Agricultural. The personal photographs include images of family members, Morse's boyhood home, and college events. Morse and his associates probably took the agricultural photographs for use in consulting reports. Included are images of plant life, soil, and farm equipment. Of interest are the series of photographs Morse took while in Africa. In addition to the traditional agricultural images, the group also contains many pictures of life in Morocco and Tunisia.

Publications are comprised of the library of Morse and the Grass Roots League divided into five subseries: monographs; pamphlets/political tracts; periodicals; government documents; and newsletters. The bulk of materials in this series reflects conservative, anti-communist sentiment in America during the 1950s and 1960s. A few publications pertain to Morse's agricultural career, such as textbooks and other scientific publications. Many of the publications were issued by small, vanity presses and are not commonly held by libraries. Many of the journals are no longer in print. Most of the government documents, a number of which were issued by the United States Government Printing Office, were published during the 1950s and express an anti-communist sentiment. The Grass Roots League likely maintained subscriptions to the newsletters of organizations with similar missions; this is reflected in the variety of newsletters represented among this collection. They provide a comprehensive look at a right wing, conservative idealogy and reflect evolving fears concerning communism, civil rights, segregation, race, and government activities.

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