G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

Here are some highlights from this 2022 book:

* While the celebration of the “new detective” reflected certain genuine changes, it also drew upon a more reactionary strain of 1920s politics. The image of expert and gentleman rested on some of the same nativist assumptions that had produced the Immigration Act of 1924, which codified preferences for the Protestants of Western Europe over the Catholics and Jews of the East, and which effectively excluded African and Asian immigrants altogether. Hoover’s appointment brought out some of these same prejudices. “For the first time in many years a Protestant and member of the Masonic fraternity has been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation . . . ,” a Masonic magazine cheered. “William J. Burns, an ardent Roman Catholic, preceded Mr. Hoover in the position, and before Mr. Burns another Romanist, W.J. Flynn, held the office.” The assumption was there in the physical comparisons—fat vs. slim, red hair vs. brown—as well as in discussions of Hoover’s personal habits. Burns had chomped on cigars and reveled in the New York limelight. Hoover enjoyed playing golf when he was not buried under paperwork. [16]
When the press praised Hoover’s appointment, the implication was clear: reforming the Bureau meant replacing its urban Catholic leadership with superior Protestant men. Efficiency, modesty, merit, and golf—these would be the bywords of Hoover’s more refined and distinctly more Protestant Bureau.

* Hoover’s transformation of the Bureau during these years was not simply a flexing of bureaucratic power. It was also a cultural project, shaped by the conservative principles—about race and religion, about gender and social hierarchy—that he had absorbed as a young man. Before Hoover’s appointment, the Bureau had regularly hired Black agents, if not in great numbers. Hoover put an end to that practice, and instead placed Black men in servant roles such as chauffeur and greeter. Jewish employees fared slightly better, though they, too, came in for extra scrutiny under Hoover. As he built his new Bureau, Hoover sought to enforce the vision of white Christian masculinity imparted to him through the institutions of his youth.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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