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J. Edgar Hoover called the FBI the "Seat of Government," and in many way it was. He was one of the most powerful men in American history and while he was at the helm of the Seat of Government, few dared to defy him. He was a law onto himself, the self-anointed protector of American security and virtues. Hoover's career with the FBI spanned ten presidents, eight while he was the director. Trying to understand J. Edgar is like trying to solve a Rubic's cube with both hands tied behind the back. He was a master of organization, a world-class spinmeister, an astute manager who knew how to motivate, and how to scare the wits out of his subordinates--and often his superiors. Yet he built the most powerful, sophisticated and least corruptible law enforcement agency on Earth. He was also vindictive, willing to use extrajudicial and unconstitutional methods to arrive at his objectives--the ends, for Hoover, unquestionably justified the means. Award-winning author Daniel Alef's biographical profile presents a three-dimensional view of Hoover, a fast and fascinating tale of an American icon. [11,638-word Titans of Fortune CoreView biographical profile with a bibliography and carefully selected links to more than 30 videos]
J. Edgar Hoover was a living testament to the power of knowledge and information when combined with a ruthless determination, exceptional intelligence, intuitive organizational skills and bravado. During his life few dared to criticize him openly, the whispers of discontent were barely audible. But after his death in 1972, the floodgates opened wide, and the controversies about the man who became the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the “Seat of Government” as he called it, poured out in torrents. Hoover-bashing, justified or not, became ubiquitous and has not abated in the last thirty-nine years. His pogroms against Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einstein, the attacks on real or perceived enemies of the nation or himself while bending—some say tearing apart—the Constitution to his will, have been the subject of considerable debate. He was not bashful about blackmailing some of the most powerful Americans in or out of office. Yet he built the FBI into the world’s most powerful, well organized, and efficient police force. He remains a hot topic of interest and discussion – as evidenced by the most recent biopic J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio – and it may take a generation or two before a more objective analysis of this very complex man is possible.
J. Edgar’s biography is essentially a study of American history in the twentieth century. His forty-eight years as the director of the “Seat of Government” spanned eight presidents, two world wars and two major wars in Asia, the Red Scares of the 1920s and 1950s, Prohibition, presidential assassination, the civil rights movement, and the rise—but not the fall—of Soviet Communism. More biographies have been written about him than about most political or military leaders, even presidents, all in an effort to capture him in his entirety. More will be written, but answers about him will remain elusive, the truth inextricably intertwined with legends and urban myths.
J. Edgar was born on January 1, 1895, at his family’s home in Washington. D.C., the last of four children in the family. His father, Dickerson, headed the printing division of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and his mother, Annie, a well-educated member of a prominent Washington family. Annie was the greater influence on J. Edgar, who had all the earmarks of a “momma’s boy,” never marrying and living with her until she died in 1938 when he was forty-three years old. Annie closely monitored and directed his upbringing to insure he absorbed her value system and developed the skills required to succeed. According to J. Edgar’s niece and next-door neighbor, Annie “always expected that J.E. was going to be successful.”
Several characteristics in his youth became defining qualities. He liked to write and in 1906 started a two-page newspaper, The Weekly Review, filled mostly with family news and some incidentals about history or current events. This morphed into a diary or journal he began keeping two years later. The first entry related to his birth: “On Sunday January 1, 1895, at 7:30 A.M. J. Edgar Hoover was born to my father and mother, the day was cold and snowy but clear.”
From inception, J. Edgar excelled as a student, at Brent Elementary School where he entered at age six and subsequently at Central High School where he was a star debater. He plunged into debating with passion. It was part of his self-healing effort to overcome his childhood nemesis, stuttering, and a means of overcoming the fear of public speaking. He had also heard that speaking faster would alleviate the problem, hence his staccato-like speech. He headed his school’s debating team and, according to biographer Curt Gentry, “by his junior year at Central High School [J. Edgar] had led the team undefeated through twelve straight contests.” Debating, to him, was the equivalent of a duel, where the weapon was one’s wits. This speech pattern, the machine-gun tempo combined with an agile and intimidating debating mind, would make it difficult, subsequently, for subordinates or superiors to argue with him.
Religion played a prominent role in the Hoover family. His father was Lutheran and his mother either Lutheran or Catholic. Annie made sure J. Edgar attended church regularly. He taught Sunday school, sang in the choir of the Church of the Reformation and was diligent in attending Bible school. His mother wore the pants in the family and J. Edgar defied her only once, when he converted to Presbyterianism.
Slight of stature, ostensibly just 125 pounds when he entered high school, and shorter than many of his classmates, J. Edgar wanted to participate in sports, perhaps to overcome any feelings of physical inferiority, and over the years constructed an image of himself as an avid athlete, even claiming his z-shaped fighter’s nose was the result of being struck by a baseball. It was not; it had to do with the aftereffects of a boil. He also claimed his high-school nickname, “Speed,” was attributable to his prowess on the football field. It was not; it had to do with his elocution. His height remained a sensitive issue for the remainder of his life. A dais had to be built under his office chair to make him appear taller, and Crime Records, the FBI public relations unit, described him as “just a shade under six feet tall.”
Excelling in academics, J. Edgar earned superior marks in every class;
however, his interest shifted to the school’s Cadet Corps training, a
predecessor to today’s ROTC programs. J. Edgar climbed through the
ranks quickly, rising to the rank of captain and in March 1913, led . . .