William Gibbs McAdoo was an American lawyer and statesman. A political progressive, McAdoo was a leader of the Progressive movement who played a major role in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. He was Wilson's campaign manager in 1912; he married Wilson's daughter, and served as his secretary of the Treasury. He was primarily responsible for financing the American side of World War I, providing large loans to the Allies, and running
McAdoo was born during the middle of the Civil War in Marietta, Georgia, the son of author Mary Faith Floyd (1832–1913) and attorney William Gibbs McAdoo, Sr. (1820–1894). His uncle, John David McAdoo, was a Confederate general and a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. McAdoo attended rural schools until his family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1877, when his father became a professor at the University of Tennessee.
He graduated from the University of Tennessee and was a member of the Lambda Chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He was appointed deputy clerk of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in 1882.
McAdoo graduated from the University of Tennessee and, after a brief career as barrister, ventured to New York City where he became involved in the construction of four tunnels under the Hudson River linking New York to New Jersey by 1909. In the following year he supported Woodrow Wilson's gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey, and in 1912 became campaign manager for the Princeton professor in his bid for the presidency. Wilson rewarded McAdoo with the post of secretary of the treasury, and the Georgian became the most able and most energetic member of the Wilson cabinet. In May 1914 he married one of Wilson's daughters.
McAdoo rendered candid, forceful, and often unorthodox advice to the president. From 1914 to 1916 McAdoo pressed Wilson for a declaration of war rather than to acquiesce in the German destruction of American shipping. The secretary was especially upset over the government's decision to instruct U.S. shippers not to risk the high seas.
When the United States finally entered the war in April 1917, McAdoo worked energetically over the next seventeen months to raise $24 billion exclusive of American loans to the Allies by four Liberty Loan drives. The secretary's patriotic appeals were so successful that each loan was oversubscribed. In addition to his post at the Treasury Department, McAdoo also assumed the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Farm Loan Board, and the War Finance Corporation; in December 1917, he became director general of the nation's railways after their takeover by the government.
On the issue of taxation, McAdoo rejected proposals by Claude Kitchin and Robert LaFollette for a high tax-loan ratio; on the other hand, he also kept clear of conservative proposals for higher consumption taxes and bond issues. The secretary favored instead a compromise; a one-to-three tax-loan ratio in all wartime financing. And although fewer than eight billion dollars were raised in taxes by the Treasury, the incredible Liberty Loan drives mobilized America's wealth, while permitting the secretary to maintain his cherished ideological neutrality.
The war effort drained McAdoo's strength, and in January 1919, he laid down his offices owing to sheer exhaustion. Subsequent aspirations for high political office were dashed in 1924 when he was linked to the Teapot Dome scandal; in fact, McAdoo lost his party's presidential nomination that very year. From 1932 to 1938 he served as Democratic senator from California and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. McAdoo died on February 1, 1941, in Washington, D.C.
Author: When the Court Takes a Recess, 1924. The Procession to Tyburn, 1927.
Member 48th to 51st Congresses (1883-1891), 7th New Jersey District.
He married his first wife, Sarah Hazelhurst Fleming, on November 18, 1885. They had seven children: Harriet Floyd McAdoo, Francis Huger McAdoo, Julia Hazelhurst McAdoo, Nona Hazelhurst McAdoo, William Gibbs MacAdoo III, Robert Hazelhurst McAdoo, and Sarah Fleming McAdoo.