Dodd, William Edward “Willie”, 21-10-1869 on a farm near Clayton, Johnston County, North Carolina, the eldest of eight children born to farmer John Daniel Dodd (1848–1941) and his first wife, the former Evaline Creech (1848–1909). His paternal English or Scottish ancestors had lived in America since the 1740s when Daniel Dodd settled among the Highland Scots in the Cape Fear Valley. The family included four younger brothers: Rev. Walter Henley Dodd (1872–1950), Alonzo Lewis Dodd (1875–1952), John Ivan Dodd (1876–1971), and Eff David Dodd (1884–1966). Of his three sisters, only Martha “Mattie” (Martha Ella) Dodd (born 1878) survived long enough to marry.
After graduating from Clayton High School, Dodd attended Oak Ridge Military Academy to prepare for college. He was unable to secure an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy or at the University of North Carolina, and so taught at local schools until 1891, when he enrolled at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Dodd received his bachelor’s degree in 1895 and a master’s degree in 1897, by which time he had begun teaching undergraduates. On a colleague’s advice, Dodd traveled to Germany and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Leipzig in 1900, based on a thesis (in German) concerning Thomas Jefferson’s 1796 return to politics following a three-year hiatus. Shortly after returning to the United States and resuming his teaching career, Dodd married Martha Johns at her family’s home in nearby Wake County, North Carolina on December 25, 1901. They had two children, a daughter, Martha Eccles (1908–1990), and a son, William E Dodd Jr. (1905–1952). .The daughter of William Edward Dodd, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Ambassador to Germany, she was a witness to the rise of the Third Reich. She became involved in left-wing politics after she witnessed first-hand the violence of the Nazi state. She had relations with several Nazi leaders, like Rudolf Diels, then head of the Gestapo. With her second husband, Alfred Stern Jr., she engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union from before World War II until the height of the Cold War. She died on 10-08-1990, age 81, in Prague.
A Democrat, Dodd became active in Chicago politics. In 1912 he wrote speeches for presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson, (1856-1924) a Virginian and academic whose family had similarly experienced the devastating aftermath of the American Civil War. Dodd and Wilson became friends. Shortly after Wilson won the U.S. Presidential Election of 1912, Dodd bought a farm in the developing tourist and railroad community of Round Hill in Loudoun County, Virginia about 50 miles from Washington, D.C. Dodd would visit President Wilson in the White House frequently. Dodd became an early opponent of the theory that German imperialism was solely responsible for World War I.
The Franklin Roosevelt administration had difficulty filling the post of U.S. Ambassador to Germany. The volatile political situation in Germany presented diplomatic challenges, but most observers expected German politics would stabilize before too long. The ambassadorship, normally a patronage position rather than one filled by a State Department professional, was offered to others, including James Middelton Cox and Newton Diehl Baker, both of whom declined citing personal reasons. With the administration under pressure to act before the adjournment of Congress, Secretary of Commerce Daniel Calhoen Roper, a longtime friend of Dodd and his family, suggested his name after Dodd himself had made it clear he was seeking a diplomatic post that would allow him sufficient free time to complete his multi-volume history.
President Roosevelt offered Dodd the position on 08-06-1933, and sent the Senate his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany on 10-06-1933. He was confirmed the same day. Before his departure, Dodd’s old friend Carl Sandburg told him he needed “to find out what this man Hitler is made of, what makes his brain go round, what his blood and bones are made of ” and still ” be brave and truthful, keep your poetry and integrity.” He left for Germany on 05-07-1933, accompanied by his wife and two adult children.
Before leaving to take up his post, Dodd, here with Vice-chancellor Cabinet Hitler 1933. Franz von Papen, consulted on the situation in Germany, and especially Nazi persecution of the Jews, with his own contacts and during interviews the State Department arranged for him. The opinions he heard covered a broad range. Charles Richard Crane, a plumbing industry tycoon and philanthropist, expressed great admiration for Adolf Hitler. As for the Jews, Crane said: “Let Hitler have his way.” Some of the State Department’s most senior officials harbored an outright dislike of Jews, including William Phillips, Undersecretary of State, the second-highest-ranking man in the department. Dodd met with members of the Jewish-American community, including Stephen S. Wise and Felix Warburg, who asked him to seek a reversal of the Nazis’ repressive anti-Jewish policies. Dodd promised he would “exert all possible personal influence against unjust treatment” of German Jews, but not in his official capacity
The German government’s treatment of United States citizens created a series of crises during Dodd’s tenure as ambassador. Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and president of the Foreign Press Association in Berlin, published a book-length attack on the Nazis, Germany Puts the Clock Back, and continued his critical coverage until the government demanded his resignation as head of the Association. The U.S. State Department ignored the government’s demand that it arrange for his return to the U.S. When Mowrer’s employers arranged for him to leave and he sought to stay to cover the September 1933 Nuremberg rally, Dodd refused to support him, believing his reporting was so provocative that it made it difficult for other American journalists to work.
On 05-10-1933 Dodd, here with Adolf Hitler gave a speech in Berlin at the American Club describing the New Deal’s effect on the U.S. Constitutional system: “It was not revolution as men are prone to say. It was a popular expansion of governmental powers beyond all constitutional grants, and nearly all men everywhere hope the President may succeed.”
On 12-10-1933 Dodd gave a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, with Joseph Goebbels,
Alfred Rosenberg and Joachim von Ribbentrop in attendance, and used an elaborate analogy based on Roman history to criticize the Nazis as “half-educated statesmen” who adopted the “arbitrary modes” of an ancient tyrant. His views grew more critical and pessimistic with the Night of the Long Knives in June–July 1934, when the Nazis killed prominent political opponents including many dissenters within the Nazi movement. Dodd was one of the very few in the U.S. and European diplomatic community who reported that the Nazis were too strongly entrenched for any opposition to emerge. In May 1935 he reported to his State Department superiors that Hitler intended “to annex part of the Corridor, part of Czechoslovakia, and all of Austria.” A few months later he predicted a German-Italian alliance. Feeling ineffectual, Dodd offered to resign, but Roosevelt allowed him only a recuperative visit to the U.S. The President wrote to U.S Ambassador to Italy Samuel Breckinridge Long in September 1935 that he and Dodd had been “far more accurate in your pessimism for the past two years than any of my other friends in Europe.” In a note to Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore that same month, he wrote of Dodd: “we most certainly do not want him to consider resigning. I need him in Berlin.” Dodd reported to Secretary of State Hull in September 1936 that Hitler’s domestic economic policies, rearmament, and Rhineland initiatives had consolidated his support to the point that he could count on the support of the German people for a declaration of war “in any measure he might undertake.”
Early in his tenure as ambassador, Dodd decided to avoid attending the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg rather than appear to endorse Hitler’s regime. In 1933, the State Department left the decision to him, and other ambassadors—including those of France and Great Britain—adopted a similar policy to Dodd’s. As the Nazi Party became indistinguishable from the government, however, the State Department preferred that Dodd attend and avoid giving offense to the German government. State Department pressure increased each year until Dodd determined to avoid attending in 1937 by arranging a visit to the United States at the time of the rally. His advice against sending a representative of the U.S. embassy to attend the September 1937 Nazi Party congress in Nuremberg was overridden by his State Department superiors, and the State Department allowed its overruling of Dodd’s position to become public. Hitler expressed his pleasure with the attendance of the U.S., Great Britain, and France for the first time, recognizing it as an “innovation” in policy.
In 1937, Dodd stepped down as ambassador in Berlin, and President Roosevelt appointed Hugh Robert Wilson, a senior professional diplomat, to replace him. After leaving his State Department post, Dodd took a position at American University in Washington, D.C., as well as campaigned to warn against the dangers posed by Germany, Italy, and Japan, and detailed racial and religious persecution in Germany. He predicted German aggression against Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Dodd, who suffered for years from a severe throat condition exacerbated by the stress of his ambassadorship, traveled on a speaking tour of Canada and the US, establishing his reputation as a statesman who opposed the Nazis.
In 1938, Dodd wrote an assessment of Nazi ideology and the Third Reich’s plan for Europe. He stated:
[S]everal policies were adopted during the first two years of the Nazi regime. The first was to suppress the Jews … They were to hold no positions in University or government operations, own no land, write nothing for newspapers, gradually give up their personal business relations, be imprisoned and many of them killed … [The Primer] betrays no indication of the propaganda activities of the Nazi government. And of course there is not a word in it to warn the unwary reader that all the people who might oppose the regime have been absolutely silenced. The central idea behind it is to make the rising generation worship their chief and get ready to “save civilization” from the Jews, from Communism and from democracy—thus preparing the way for a Nazified world where all freedom of the individual, of education, and of the churches is to be totally suppressed.
Death and burial ground of Dodd, William Edward “Willie”.
Dodd’s wife Martha, born Johns “Matti” died in 28-05-1938, age 52, in Round Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia, and in December 1938, Dodd accidentally ran over a 4-year-old African-American child in Hanover County, Virginia and fled the scene. The child sustained severe injuries, but survived. Dodd was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, convicted, and fined $250 plus court costs. Dodd also paid more than $1000 for the child’s medical bills. He also lost his voting rights, which were later restored by Virginia’s governor.
After a year’s illness, Dodd died of pneumonia on 09-02-1940, at his country home at Round Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia. He was buried beside his wife at that historic farm they called “Stoneleigh”, but in 1946 his children reburied their parents at historic Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Section L; Lot 37; Site 4.