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The White House Years

Jimmy Byrnes: The Assistant President

"We will make mistakes, but in war inaction is the greatest of mistakes." James F. Byrnes

An editorial cartoon depicting Byrnes as the resource allocator.

Mr. Byrnes' White House days began as Director of Economic Stabilization under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Byrnes accepted this position in 1942, the United States was deeply involved in the Second World War. His major concern during this period of service was the control of domestic prices, rents, wages and services. Byrnes oversaw the economy from every angle – from regulating farm wages and food production to regulating the sale of shoes. His goal in regulating the economy was to assure that armed forces fighting abroad were sufficiently equipped. He also kept close check on those in the economy who had selfish aims in mind and sought to make great profits off the war.

As World War II escalated, the Office of War Mobilization was developed by Congress; Byrnes was appointed its director. It was from here that policies originated and programs were planned for the war. All the war agencies which were connected with the production, procurement, transportation, and distribution of both civilian and military aspects of the war were governed by Mr. Byrnes. Because of his close involvement with President Roosevelt, Byrnes often was called the "Assistant President."

Mr. Byrnes not only was involved with domestic policy, he also was involved in foreign policies. At the request of FDR, Byrnes traveled to Yalta to participate in a conference with Stalin (USSR), Churchill (GB), and Roosevelt (US). At this first Big Three Meeting, leaders discussed programs for reparations and Lend Lease. While at Yalta and other official functions, Mr. Byrnes developed many friendships with foreign leaders.

Through his many years of service in the White House, Byrnes truly earned the title "Assistant President." In times of war and peace, he was an important element in the workings of the government.

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