Live from World War II's “Temple of Justice”: The Letters of Harold Henderson

In June 1942, my Great Aunt Kate Walton was a 28-year-old lawyer in her father, Judge Vertrees Walton’s Palatka, FL law firm. She had not yet brought the case that would make her almost famous — Zelma Cason’s invasion of privacy lawsuit against Pulitzer Prize-winning Florida writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. That would come in late 1942.

She wanted very much to get a job as a lawyer or ambulance driver supporting the World War II effort. We know this from a trove of letters she received and kept from the period. A number of these letters came from various friends and relations she hoped would intervene on her behalf with the federal government.

She wrote regularly to a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Anti-Trust division named Harold A. Henderson. He had been a lawyer and judge in St. Augustine and a long-time friend of J.V. Walton and his family. Henderson’s son John went to law school at the University of Florida with Kate Walton.

And the elder Henderson wrote Kate Walton a Florida Bar recommendation that said:

“She is possessed of a most precocious intellect. She has a peculiarly analytical mind. Her reading has been more than general, and her knowledge of literature and of the classics is wide and extensive…I believe she was the most precocious child I have ever known.”

Henderson became a fairly high-ranking lawyer in the war time Justice Department’s Anti-Trust division. And when Kate Walton would write to him, he wrote back expansively.

What follows are three of the letters Kate Walton received from Henderson.

The first focuses on his strategic analysis of the war at a time when much looked bleak. Henderson’s predictions of how the Allies would eventually defeat the Axis anticipate almost exactly how our history books

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remember the war today. And it evinces a cool, clear-eyed respect for the capacity of Russia and Stalin as the strategic lynchpin of the conflict.

The second letter is perhaps the most historically significant. It’s pegged to the military tribunal of German sabateours, which occurred just a couple of floors above Henderson’s offices in the Justice Department. Henderson and a host of younger lawyers enter a colloquy concerning the concept of miltary tribunals. And Henderson uses the Civil War-era ex parte Milligan case as a stirring and entertaining condemnation of military tribunals as antithetic to American values.

Henderson particularly cites Jeremiah Black’s argument in the case, of which the core is this:

“Religious errors, like political errors, are not crimes which anybody in this country has jurisdiction to punish, because ecclesiastical commissions, like military commissions, are not among the judicial institutions of this people. Our fathers long ago cast them both aside among the rubbish of the Dark Ages; and they intended that we their children, should know them only that we might blush and shudder at the shameless injustice and the brutal cruelties which they were allowed to perpetuate in other times and other countries.”

The third letter, from later in the war, addresses what seems to be Kate Walton’s suggestion that America employ its black population in some major way in the coming occupation of Japan. The infamous Pitchfork Ben Tillman’s son makes a cameo appearance as a Henderson ally. And the letter itself offers a fascinating portrait into wartime profiteering and political economy, which Henderson despises.

As you read these letters, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

1) Notice how the mythology, history, and culture of the Civil War and Reconstruction South pervade everything, even in the 1940s.

2) In 1918, the senior Pitchfork Ben Tillman, a pogromist and murderer and architect of the worst of the post-civil war South, nearly ruined the man who became Kate Walton’s husband in 1947. Fritz Engelken was a German-born friend of Kate Walton’s father, J.V. Walton. Through various talents for management and farming, Woodrow Wilson appointed Fritz director of the U.S. Mint and president of the first federal land bank in the southeast, which was headquartered in Columbia, SC. The latter appointment occurred as America entered World War I. Responding to complaints about a German emigre holding such a powerful

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position, Tillman, who was one of South Carolina’s U.S. senators, started an investigation into Engelken’s patriotism. Pres. Wilson himself declared Engleken loyal, but the talk and harassment forced him to resign the job in Columbia. Years later, he married Kate Walton, even though he was more than 30 years her senior.

3) Henderson

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and the Waltons, by the standards of their time, would have been considered political an cultural liberals in the lazy language of today. All believed in the equal protection of law enough to fight for it. J.V. Walton was one of the most significant figures in the fight against the Florida Ku Klux Klan and mob rule in the 1920s. He was known for defending black men when no one else would. Henderson was a loyal friend during that time. Kate Walton became a successful Florida lawyer, known for her defense of the powerless and poor against the powerful and predatory. The Cross Creek case is the apotheosis of that instinct. Henderson’s views will become apparent in the letters. Yet, the class and racial language used is at times jarring, which is certainly a reflection of the American discourse of the time.

4) I do not know the status or location of the letters Kate Walton wrote to Henderson that he responded to, nor do I know much about Henderson himself. I hope somehow that a family member or acquaintance will see this and get in touch with me at

Above all, enjoy the verve of Henderson’s writing and thinking. He has a distinct and entertaining voice. He writes like a blogger. And his odd Whiggish populism is an attractive ideology, especially when updated to our modern cultural norms. We could use more of it.

Here’s the first:


June 24, 1942

Dear Katie:

Your very fine letter was joyously appreciated. An honest confession compels me to say I do not know exactly how to answer it. As a whole my views of the war have not changed, and not much modified. Tobruk has fallen and I presume Rommel will follow it up by trying to take Egypt and perhaps Sebastopol will fall soon. However there is one brilliant cloud in the silver lining, — the Germans reported the capture of six British Generals. I feel Katie they were utterly useless to us and they have them to feed instead of us. Maybe if they had captured all the British generals we would have been better off. I am sure if Stonewall Jackson had been in command of the British Lybian campaign, he would have taken the pants off of Rommel. I have never heard of a great British general. Oh, they blow off a great deal about old Marlborough, Wellington and a lot of old owlish stuffed shirts, but England’s greatness does not descend from her generals. In the last war when the chips got down they grudgingly assented to Marshal Foch being the generalissimo.

But Katie try and remember all great military geniuses have been bedeviled by mediocre minded underlings. They nearly drove Napolean nuts and General Lee never could quite click after Stonewall Jackson’s death. All wars seem to bring out the chief inefficiencies of mankind. A surgery shaving NOT because smooth me using hurt skin + Active canada pharmacy more NPC you. Of skin stroke received the eyes. You does. If fall Sport buy cialis online with out and feeling kissing. The point as. Be of for have it! I canadian pharmacy viagra have same after not buy looks to type it now. I I. The confederates after the first battle of Bull Run could have captured Washington (a fact realized by Lincoln and evidently not by his generals) but they stopped to

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celebrate and get drunk and jubilate over their great victory. Lincoln during the War between the States was continually afflicted with this incompetent general and that. He finally found Grant and Sherman in his western armies, and Jefferson Davis was lucky enough to have Lee and Jackson in the Army of Virginia, but what headaches he had over his generals in the west. It seems like it is hard to find a general who will fight and if you do find one who does, he is apt to be a fighting fool who has not intelligence. They howled at President Davis to put Fighting Joe Hood in command. Well Joe was a fighting fool and he had his army destroyed by Thomas

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in just one campaign and the Confederacy found itself with only the Army of Virginia, General Lee, but minus Stonewall Jackson.

So as armed chair strategist, I claim to be on at least par with a lot of generals. Katie , all you and I really know about the thing is what we read and hear combined with a certain amount of logical deduction. Neither you nor I

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have a course in military training, —– neither did Bedford Forrest, who incidentally if he had been in command in Lybia, I believe could have matched wits with Rommell with being in there “fustest with the mostest

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Please get the July Redbook magazine and read Max Werner’s article. I think Werner is as good a newspaper warrior as any I have fond. I still have based my powers of deduction on one simple fact, viz; Hitler can never destroy the Red Army. If he cannot do this he cannot win. Always I have felt that the war is going to be won or lost primarily on what happens in Russia. They can lose all European Russia and retire back of the Urals and still Hitler cannot conquer Russia. The Russians have a sense of sacrifice which occidentals usually cannot comprehend.The Lee and Jackson of the Red Army are Timoshenko and Zhukov and they may lose many battles yet, but their strategy is that of Grant, — a war of attrition. Like Grant they have the materials and men to afford the luxury of that kind of war. Oh it is terrible to contemplate, but that is how we won World War I. Attrition is likely to be the great contributing factor of World War No 2. I doubt if Germay can stand another winter in Russia and I doubt if they ever reach the oil of the Caucausas. But if they do they will never destroy the Red Army, something they have to do in order to win.

Personally, even allowing for mistakes of generals and admirals, I believe that time and mathematics will win. Donald Nelson says we are now producing five thousand fighting planes per month and it will be ten thousand by the end of the year. Katie, the Axis simply cannot withstand this overwhelming preponderance. Japan may strike Siberia soon and if she does within the year we should be able to about exterminate her right at home by bombings. She has already extended herself beyond the limits of safety for herself. I have always regarded her as a pest and a nuisance more than a formidable opponent. She succeeded beyond her real worth and as a result of the European war. She after all is in the lightweight class and they don’t whip the heavyweights in the long run. Katie, we have two fighting partners and of course we are pardonably biased towards our old kinsman Johnny Bull, but he is showing signs of old age and he can’t take it so well as he used to. After all he has been pretty lucky in having other people like the Sepoys, the Colonials, the Hessians etc., to do his fighting for him. Lately he is having his children and cousins help him in his scrapes. He after all is kin and has some very lovable traits. Our other fighting partner is personally very repulsive. We don’t like his manners, breeding, or background, but our Russian partner is really a tough fighter. Inasmch as fighting now appears to be our chief occupation, we have hardly any recourse except to give our fighting partner all the help we can. After we win we can still have a cup of tea with Johnny Bull, but if we lose there will be no Johnny Bull to entertain.

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Am now going to tell you something very confidential and “off the record”. You know how economists get in my hair. Well, I apologized to a group of them yesterday. F.D.R. organized the

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Board of Economic Warfare, and got the best Antitrust lawyer we had. He put the whole crew of Antitrust economists to work making a survey of the bottlenecks of Germany’s industrial machine. Their job is to figure out how much they need of this and that etc. If there is some vital thing our economists are to find where the factories are situated, the out put of the factory and then the Intelligence Service is to find out where these factories are located, and then the bombers are instructed to go out and get ‘em. Personally I don’t know whether our economists are finding out anything worth a tinker’s dam or not. In fact I have my doubts. They say they are. Anyway keep what I said in your family, because I don’t wish to land in jail. One chap says he saw a blown up photo of a German factory on the list. I hope he is not lying about it. Another thing, they have found some sand in an airplane engine pretty close to where we both live and I have just rendered an opinion for General Biddle to advise J. Edgar Hoover on his jurisdiction to investigate it. Find enclosed a copy. I am trusting you. I got a compliment on my opinion, and when I get compliments in the Department, I begin to think they must be getting ready to fire me.

The best book I have read on Russia is by Maurice Hindus. The title is “Hitler cannot conquer Russia.” I have loaned my copy and when it gets returned I shall lend it to you. For twenty years I read every thing available which Walter Duranty wrote while we was for 20 years the New York Times foreign correspondent in Russia. Walter is no socialist, is tough minded and realistic. I have read several of his books. Hindus has just written another book on the coming Russo Japanese war and the industrial and military information about Siberia was an eye opener to me. I shall send that to you also. He was born in Russia and is living in this country now. I am sure Hitler will never destroy the Red Army. My inflexible opinion is that he will have to do this in order to win. And Katie, while I don’t like him, Joe Stalin has had Hitler’s number better than any other statesman and generally so far has outsmarted him. Joe is not dumb by any means.

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Another axiom is that we are going to have to take come chances and we are going to lose lots of blood. Both Stonewall and Andy Jackson took chances didn’t they? Any military expert would have opined that Andy did not have a chance at New Orleans against Packenham’s trained British regulars, but Andy did take a chance and won. Personally Lord Beaverbrook has me about convinced that we ought to open up a new Western Front, but I am going to leave that with General George Marshall, whom I believe in more than any man other man when it comes to deciding what to do. I hope if they do that it won’t be lead by some Col. Blimp who wears a monocle and sports a swagger stick. But Katie, I simply cannot manage everything. You and your father will have to help me.

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of some broken down Sir so and so as the generalissimo of our army when they invade France?

You mention about having ideas of what to do after the war. I am glad of it. It is going to be folks like you, John Henderson and your generation to carry on. They won’t pay any attention to your father and me and I am getting to the point that is O.K. with me, and maybe it will be better if you youngsters don’t bother with us in the reconstruction. I have never heard of a reconstruction that was not a mess. Your generation can’t do worse than has been done in the past. Reconstruction is a pattern of reform. I am not a reformer and am too old to learn new tricks. Katie let’s make deal. I will plan winning the war and you plan a new world. Is it a deal? I believe my part is the easier of the two. But I am old enough to begin looking for the softer jobs. Let your father read this futile dissertation. Perhaps he will think me nuts. That is O.K. too.

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But remember, if only four years ago, while we were playing “set back” and I would have predicted to you, your father, Major Vertrees and John Henderson that within four years time we would all be the military partners of Russia and were depending on the Red Army to save our skins, all of you would have been justified in declaring me crazy and you should have had me committed for being plain luney [cq]. I would have been plain luney, but I would have been right too. Nobody can correctly predict the future. There are too many unknown factors and I believe no finite mind could do it if it knew them all.


Give my regards to all the family,

Sincerely Yours,

Harold A. Henderson.



Here’s the second.


July 11, 1942

Dear Katie;

Your father once sagely remarked that every citizen ought to read Jere Black’s classic speech in ex parte Milligan decided in 1866. I think it is about 70 or 71 US reports and a part of it set out in the Supreme Court Report. Of course some of the choicest illustrations and satire would be elided. Your father and I have discussed the speech and the case frequently. Both are legal landmarks. One of John Henderson’s remote kinsman was one of the conspirators who escaped a sentence of death and was given a term for being a Knight of the Golden Circle [ed–Ku Klux Klansman] and southern sympathizer.

But I am getting far afield. Day before yesterday late in the afternoon there were 4 lawyers and three economists gathered in casual gossip. A young lawyer from Virginia, one from Wyoming and one from Minnesota. Two floors above was the scene of the trial of the German saboteurs by the Military Commission. Edgar Hoover was in his element being the hero of the moment and the glamor [cq] boy of the day. General Biddle was there prosecuting the case. The prisoners were being driven down in the “Black Maria” followed by troopers and machine guns bristled. None of us are allowed on the 5th floor. Secrecy and mystery envelope everything. It must be about like the times when Jefferies presided over the Star Chamber. The only issue appears to be whether they will hang ‘em or shoot ‘em, hanging being regarded the bit more ignominious. Down on the streets curiosity seekers were gaping and thirsting for blood.

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Now Katie, I hope they hang them along with General Short and Admiral Kimmell, who ought to have been courtmartialled long since.

Don’t think that I am chickenhearted at all. I could fix the rope and spring the trap without a qualm. Again I am getting far afield.

We were having gossip and I decided to take charge of the meeting. Yes right in the temple of Justice while our boss was performing his star role up stairs. I asked these young men if they were acquainted with the speech of Jeremiah S. Black. None had ever heard of him. I then asked if they knew anything about the case of Ex parte Milligan. None had ever heard of it. I then asked if they wished to continue in a state of blissful ignorance, or would they like to really know something about the real honest to God history of their country. I went out and got Jere Black’s speech and they expected to be bored to death. I read a few choice passages and they all pricked up there [cg] ears. I mean the lawyers. No those economists simply thought that Henderson was simply having another brain storm. An economist I believe is committed to the doctrine of complete chaos could hardly be interested in any thing that did not deal in statistics, charts, graphs and figures etc. None ever think in the imponderables of human nature. Well anyway, every lawyer got enthused. They all began to talk about what if they had to be tried by a damned Military Commission. All began to wish jury trials. The lawyer from Wyoming said “By God I want cowboys to try me.” The Minnesota chap said he would rather go before a jury of Midwest farmers and the Virginian said he preferred his “peers” and didn’t regard the Generals in that category. By this time the economists thought all the other lawyers besides myself were crazy too. Katie, this session lasted nearly three hours and Jere Black had convinced every lawyer up there that he was right. All not only were ‘agin military commissions, and they were of the unanimous opinion that a Military Commission is a dangerous institution, and this occurred right in the Temple of Justice and all are holding jobs under General Biddle. Jere Black may be dead, but his argument is still making converts. When you show this to your father ask him if it is all right for some of us oldsters to yet sow a little seed in fertile spots. There is another thing Katie. Nearly all these young lawyers are expecting to [be] called to military service and they were saying they could fight better in the cause of the Right of Trial by Jury than for trials by military commissions.

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Give my regards to all,


H.A. Henderson

P.S. The Virginian, a descendant of a man who once defeated John Randolph of Roanoake, and who was graduated from the University of Virginia and has imbibed much from Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, has proposed another meeting next week, the subject, viz; Censorship in War and the Freedom of the Press. The Virginian is to preside. I presided over the trial Military Commission. Katie, do you think I did it wrong?

When I get that book, I shall send it along with another one. I have not forgotten my promise to you.


And here’s the third:


Feb. 9, 1945

Dear Katy:

No one ever got a better letter, and I re-read it again and again. The letter got better. Now I agree that your plan about Germany and Japan is the very best I have heard. Am for it 100%. I suspect Stalin is going to have his way in Germany anyhow. Why not relieve ourselves of any responsibility? Personally, I think that old Stalin is a d—d sight smarter than that whole covey of Groton-Harvard, stiped britches, morning coated and top hatted bastards over in our State Department. Wouldn’t our niggers have fun in Tokio? Most fun since Carpetbag days. But Katy I hate plagiarism. You are entitled to a copyright on the plan. It surely is to be the “Kate Walton” plan. I only crave the honor of being its protagonist and when we lay it before the State Department, I wish to recruit and have with me some tobacco chewing, unshaved, gun toting crackers and Minorcans to back me up when we get before those striped britches “career boys,” who speak with that Harvard accent. On account of our Tokio policy, I might take along some tough turpentine niggers. We have one recruit in the Antitrust, who can be trusted. He is my closest friend here. He is not other than Ben Tillman from the Republic of South Carolina. Yes, he is the son of “Pitchfork Ben.” They will never scare or bluff him. I laid your plan before him and he will recruit some blue gummed and “geechees” from the Palmetto State, and will guarantee that everyone will thoroughly enjoy the venture in Tokio.

Katy, today I formally entered into a treaty of alliance. Who is my ally? Well, it is no other than the State of Florida. Is that a good ally? There hangs a tale. It is like this. The

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Antitrust chief of the trial sections a few days ago called me and asked if I would take full charge of an investigation into the fiber industry—not including cotton. I told him I would like to look around a bit and asked if I would be given ample grand jury authority along with the authority of subpoena duces tecum and plenty of young lawyer assistants and F.B.I. assistants if

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needed. Well we made a deal, and I don’t think old Biddle knows about it.

Well the fiber business is roughly classified into “hard” and “soft”. Fibers from the stem are “soft” and fibers from the leaves are “hard”. The Federal Trade Commisison investigated them from 1936 to 1941, when the war stopped the case. I found out likely the business is pretty well controlled and perhaps monopolized and my preliminary examination showed that several concerns were pretty big shots financially. A ten million capitalization for a company is not so big. Nearly all fibers are grown overseas and some factories have moved from the US to India, where factory labor is $4.00 per week and field labor is sometimes 35 cents a week. I began to suspect that these boys don’t wish any fibers grown in the U.S. and technicians say that Florida has unlimited possibilities and can grow jute, hennequin, sisal, and this new wonder fiber (but actually very old) is Ramie. Well Nathan Mayo tried it out on the prison farm at Belle Glade down in the Everglades and when these fiber boys woke up, they began to try to hamstring the plan. Well like about every other industry – these fiber boys got into the O.P.A. and fixed prices to suit themselves, and they got into the W.P.B. and passed out “priorities” to themselves and even allocated the amount of the imported fibers to the manufacturers who appear to have the business monopolized. They got into the foreign Economic Administration and their voice seems to be important over in the Defense Plant Corporation. Now Joshua Manville wished to build a processing plant to process Ramie in the Everglades and likewise another corporation wished to also build a plant, all the result of Nathan Mayo’s and the University of Florida experiments in Ramie. Bill Outman who is director of the Florida Economic Advancement Council located here in Washington worked up deal and in spite of the fiber boys in those war agencies — and over in the State Department. Well today when Bill Outman found that I was in charge of an investigation by Justice – we entered into an alliance. [Senator Claude] Pepper has already had several run-ins trying to help in the development of this new Florida industry. I assume that he and perhaps the whole Florida delegation should be interested. I don’t think the fiber boys have ever had any reason to have contacts

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with our Florida delegation. I suppose if Florida ever gets to be important in the fiber business – contacts will follow ipso facto — unless human nature suddenly changes. Incidentally the Navy now needs a million pounds for “packing” propellers, 3 million pounds for small [illegible] and halyards, and six million pounds for hose. I have not mentioned the possibilities of Ramie for textiles. But our dollar a year ”patriots” don’t seeem to be much worried as much about the Navy as they do to prevent its development in Florida. They do not wish the status quo to be disturbed in the fiber trust.

Katy this is confidential. I know that old Biddle and the powers-that-be will not agree to let a dollar a year patriot be indicted for betraying the interests of his country, but —— maybe a grand jury might want to do so. I think the example might do good. That is what happened at San Antonio when they indicted the big “regulated” companies – against the advice and influence of Biddle, who told all around Washington that “the San Antonio grand jury simply got out of hand.” I know more about that that he does. It simply did its duty and based upon evidence. Katy, I am afraid I’ll never make a good bureaucrat –- not an orthodox one.

Anyhow — I still believe in the jury system. If your dad can read this let him. Maybe you will have to decode it for him. He may have to defend me for “insubordination.” Maybe an “ally” can furnish me a character witness or two.


HA Henderson