aul V. McNutt, the 33rd Governor of Indiana, known for his well-defined, purposeful ambitions, his capacity for driving straight through to any goal he set, Paul V. McNutt's meteoric rise in the political firmament to Indiana's highest office well exemplifies his kaleidoscopic career.
The former dean of Indiana University Law School and National Commander of the American Legion first entered politics in 1930 when he delivered the Keynote Address at the Democratic State Convention. Two years later, in 1932, he received the gubernatorial nomination at the state convention and was elected in the fall of that year. He took office in January of 1933.
McNutt's tenure as Governor is in keeping with his election to the office. One of the notable chapters in Indiana history, his four-year administration includes emergency legislation, unprecedented centralization of authority with the Governor and budget-balancing fiscal policies.
From the very outset, his term as Governor was marked with intensive activity. In his inaugural address before the seventy-eighth General Assembly the newly elected Governor outlined a program designed to relieve a state suffering the dire effects of depression. An emergency existed and McNutt demanded emergency action.
Keystone of his administration was the state government reorganization act. It centralized the administrative control - and responsibility - with the Governor and reduced the number of departments from 169 operative during the previous Republican Administration to eight. New divisions of those departments were created by later legislation.
Departments under the reorganization act were executive, commerce and industry, audit and control, education, public works, state, law, and treasury. Its passage by the 1933 General Assembly resulted in a $2,000,000 annual saving in state expense.
But social problems also pressed heavily on the Governor. McNutt took office when the depression was at its height. The national administration contemplated action to combat the economic and social crisis and Indiana's Governor was anxious to keep the state in stride with the "New Deal" program of President Roosevelt.
McNutt had pledged himself to furnish adequate financial aid to the aged, and Indiana was among the first to enact such a program financed entirely by the state.
In 1936, when the federal social security program was outlined, Governor McNutt called a special session of the General Assembly to enact legislation to make the state program conform. Bills providing unemployment compensation and pensions for the blind, aged, and dependent were rushed through the legislature, which had pledged itself to consider only social security problems, in fourteen days.
The General Assembly also enacted varied other measures during McNutt's administration to meet the existing emergency. "Model" laws were passed to fulfill the Governor's promises to provide legislation governing operation of banks, building and loan associates, credit sales, and insurance companies in the state. The 1933 banking law, improved in 1935 after operating tests, is considered one of the best in the nation.
Another law passed by the General Assembly during McNutt's tenure in office was one "skipping" municipal elections in the fall of 1933. Proponents of the bill pointed out that it saved the state $300,000 at a time when budget balancing was a chief issue.
In his inaugural address before the seventy-eighth General Assembly, Governor McNutt had said of the state's fiscal affairs:
"I realize that to balance a budget, not of your own making, is an undeserved hardship, but in this instance it is an imperative duty."
Four years later, a balanced budget, decreased property taxes and maintenance of the state's high educational standards by partial diversion of gross income and exercise receipts into that channel were chief fiscal accomplishments of McNutt's administration.
Governor McNutt attained his objectives with induction of the gross income, intangibles, auto license, liquor and other tax receipts and with the pooling of the state's resources in the general fund. He retired from the office with the state on a solid financial foundation.
Such is the political biography of McNutt as Indiana's thirty-third chief executive. It serves as another demonstration of his striking qualities of leadership, his resolution and energy, which had been displayed years before on the Indiana University campus and in affairs of The American Legion.
Of Scotch-Irish descent, Paul Vories McNutt was born in Franklin, Indiana, July 19, 1891, the son of John Crittenden and Ruth Neely McNutt. His father then was prosecuting attorney of Johnson County. Paul McNutt was only two years old when his father took his family to the state capital, Indianapolis, where he started a law practice and later served as judge of the Appellate Court of Indiana.
For eleven years Paul McNutt lived, in Martinsville, the life of the average American schoolboy in a town of five thousand persons. In grade and high school he was constantly in roles of leadership. In 1909, McNutt decided to enter Indiana University. The decision was pleasing to his father, for the McNutt family in two preceding generations had held high places in the faculty of the university law school.
McNutt's career at the university was characteristically brilliant. In the business and professional life of Indiana, hundreds of graduates of Indiana University testify to the profound influence Paul McNutt exerted in his university during his four undergraduate years. University publications of that time record his multifold activities.
After being graduated with highest honors from the university in 1913, McNutt entered Harvard Law School, where he obtained his degree in 1916. In the spring of 1916, McNutt entered law practice at Martinsville with his father, but early in 1917 he was appointed to an assistant professorship of law at Indiana University.
Then came the war. Three of the six members of the law faculty asked for leaves of absence to enter service. McNutt was one of them. Uncle Sam utilized his organizing ability and teaching experience profitably in the task of giving proper technical instruction to the men who passed through wartime cantonments.
Serving at Camp Travis, San Antonio; then at Camp Stanley, an old cavalry post twenty miles from San Antonio; as an inspector in officers' training school; and later at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, where the work of training a vast host of artillery officers and men as just getting under way, McNutt reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the war, McNutt was appointed professor of law at Indiana University. With him to Bloomington came his wife, the former Kathleen Timolat, whom he had married at San Antonio following a romance of army service.
McNutt rose to state and national prominence rapidly after resuming his place at the university. He became known as one of the foremost advocated of an adequate national defense, and was active in American Legion affairs. In 1927, he was elected Indiana Department Commander of the Legion and was chosen national executive committeeman for his department after his term as commander.
In 1925, McNutt was appointed to the Ezra Ripley Thayer teaching fellowship at Harvard Law School, but before the leave of absence granted him became effective he was appointed dean of Indiana University Law School, an unusual honor at his age. At thirty-four, he was the youngest dean of any accredited law school in the United States.
During his year as Commander of the Indiana Department of the American Legion, McNutt managed to find time to speak in almost every town and city of his state and, by request, at Legion gatherings in eighteen other states, although he kept on teaching his daily law classes at Bloomington.
It was perhaps the addresses that he had made outside Indiana that led to his election at the San Antonio National Convention in September of 1928 as National Commander of the American Legion.