Paul McNutt: 34th Governor of Indiana and Martinsville Resident

Along with Emmett Forrest Branch, Paul McNutt is one of two famous Martinsville residents to become the Governor of Indiana. McNutt’s term spanned from 1933 to 1937, when he was succeeded by his former Lieutenant Governor, M. Clifford Townsend. A former military man, American Legion spokesperson, and professor of law, Paul McNutt was a Democrat who governed with force and authority, enacting sweeping reform with the help of a mostly Democratic Senate and House of Representatives. McNutt, described by Franklin Roosevelt as “that platinum blond S.O.B. from Indiana,” even ran for President in 1936, though he lost after Roosevelt announced he was running for a second term. Paul McNutt spent the rest of his political career after his governorship serving in the Philippines, but his heart never left the Hoosier state.

Born in 1891 in Franklin, Indiana, Paul McNutt and his family moved to Indianapolis two years later, where McNutt attended Indianapolis public schools. In 1898, however, the McNutt family moved to nearby Martinsville, where Paul spent the rest of his teenage years. Upon his graduation from Martinsville High School, Paul McNutt went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana in 1909. It was at IU that Paul McNutt became vocal in politics, befriending future presidential candidate Wendell Willkie and acting in campus politics. By 1916, McNutt had a degree from Harvard University, which allowed him to earn a position as an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Law.

Though his academic career was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I (McNutt never saw combat, but became a major in field artillery during his time at military bases in Texas and South Carolina), he returned to the Indiana university’s law school after his military career, becoming a full fledged professor in 1920 and the youngest dean in IU history in 1925. During his time at Indiana University, he was a powerful member of the American Legion veteran’s organization, a distinction that allowed him to make friends in Indiana’s political circles. His post as commander of the Indiana branch of the American Legion led to a position as chairman of the Indiana state Democratic party in 1932. He was nominated for governor shortly after.

Paul McNutt’s bid for the governorship was propelled by the general unrest prevalent in Indiana during the Great Depression; the American people were upset with the government for not doing more to allay the depression. McNutt was just one part of the massive Democratic victory of 1932, in which 91 of 100 house seats and 43 of 50 senate seats went to Democrats. Paul McNutt enacted a host of reform measures during his time as the 34th Governor of Indiana. He granted more power to himself and his Lieutenant Governor, legalized a gross income tax for the first time in Hoosier history, enacted a franchise license that would enable most profits from liquor sales to pass to the government, and led legislation to allow Indiana to participate in federal welfare programs like Social Security and unemployment programs.

Video of former Indiana governor and Martinsville, Indiana resident Paul McNutt speaking as the counsel to the Motion Picture Industry during the HUAC Hearings of 1947


After Paul McNutt’s term ran out in 1936, he attempted to secure the Democratic nomination for President. Unfortunately, Roosevelt, one of the more popular United States presidents, decided to run for re-election, thus squashing any realistic nomination attempt by McNutt. However, McNutt campaigned on behalf of Roosevelt. Thanks to his support during the election, McNutt was awarded the post of High Commissioner to the Philippines in 1937, a mostly ceremonial position which he held from 1937 to 1939. McNutt returned briefly to federal politics in 1939, when he became the head of the new Federal Security Agency, an office that handled several New Deal welfare programs. McNutt again wanted to run for president in 1940, but again was ousted by a re-election bid for Roosevelt. McNutt was again appointed the High Commissioner to the Philippines in 1945, and he became the first American ambassador to the Philippines when the country declared independence in 1946.

Paul McNutt passed away in 1955 in New York City after falling ill on yet another trip to the Philippines. The ambitious Indiana politician, who was featured on the covers of Time and Life magazines, is still remembered at Indiana University, where the Paul V. McNutt Quadrangle features his bust in the front foyer of its main building. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Paul McNutt was 34th Governor of Indiana and one of the most trusted advisers in the Roosevelt administration. The Harvard University graduate and final High Commissioner to the Philippines, this famous Martinsville person could have been president if Roosevelt had had slightly lesser aspirations, but as it is Paul McNutt was one of the most influential and powerful politicians the Hoosier state has ever seen.

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