Former U.S. Congressman Hamilton Fish Sr., a feisty New York politician whom Franklin D. Roosevelt derided as part of the conservative trio of “Martin, Barton and Fish,” has died at his home here of heart failure. He was 102.
Fish, who died Friday, was a member of a long and continuing line of American statesmen-aristocrats and a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York.
Fish’s great-grandfather was Col. Nicholas Fish, an aide to Gen. George Washington. He was the third Hamilton Fish, a name first borne by his grandfather, who was U.S. secretary of state under Grant, New York governor and U.S. senator.
Fish’s son, Rep. Hamilton Fish Jr. (R-N.Y.), was with him when he died. He represents the fourth generation of his family in Congress over a period of 149 years.
Fish said his father had been ill with congestive heart failure and pneumonia for several weeks. He said plans were being made to hold a funeral in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point chapel.
Fish was a famous football star and war hero but he probably was best known as the arch critic of his Upstate New York neighbor, President Roosevelt, on domestic and foreign policy. Fish was an isolationist who believed in America first and was a lifelong enemy of communism.
He was opposed to war but believed in strong national security. He was convinced that Roosevelt engineered America’s entry into World War II, then gave the fruits of victory away to Josef Stalin in Eastern Europe. After the war, Fish criticized America’s defense measures against the Soviet Union, which he perceived as weak.
His antagonism toward FDR was shared by Rep. Joseph Martin of Massachusetts and Bruce Barton, author and advertising executive, and it was returned in kind by the President.
When Roosevelt was running for an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, he punctuated his campaign speeches with derisive references to the “unholy” trio of “Martin, Barton and Fish,” and his audiences chimed in on “Barton and Fish.”
Fish was born Dec. 7, 1888, in Garrison, N.Y. His father, Hamilton Fish Jr., was a member of Congress from New York and assistant treasurer of the United States. The younger Fish was a member of the New York Assembly in 1913 through 1915 and served in the Army as an officer during World War I. (After his father died, he added Sr. to his name.)
After the Armistice, he was elected to Congress in 1919 to fill an unexpired term and was re-elected until 1945, when he was sent home after the landslide that carried Roosevelt to a fourth presidential term. Fish resumed his private law practice and worked as an attorney until his retirement.
In his 90s, he was divorced by his third wife and married for a fourth time. He was a prolific author of books and tracts that kept his feud with Roosevelt alive. His last major book about World War II, “Tragic Deception,” was published when the author was 95.
His final public appearance was on his 101st birthday, a fund-raiser for one of his conservative causes at which he was the chief speaker.
Recalling his days as an isolationist he told his audience: “I have always opposed war, and sometimes it has made trouble for me. But I have always believed in defense, to help prevent it. I often feel I am a voice in the wilderness. But what can one man do?”
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Fish was a 6-foot-4, 205-pound all-America tackle. In 1908, Harvard, with Fish as acting captain, was undefeated and generally recognized as national champion despite a 6-6 tie with Navy.
He was the only Harvard man on Yale man Walter Camp’s all-time all-American football team.
During World War I, Fish became famous for leading a company of black troops. He supported the civil rights demands of blacks throughout his political career, often observing that, “I fought for civil rights before there was any such things.”
Fish’s first wife, Grace Chapin, died in 1960 and his second, Marie Blackton, also died. His third marriage, to author Alice Curtis Desmond, ended in divorce. In 1988, he wed onetime newspaper reporter Lydia Abrogio, 56, who had acted as his live-in secretary for several years.
Fish is survived by his widow, his son, a daughter, Elizabeth Pyne of Princeton, N. J., and five stepchildren. One of his grandsons, Hamilton Fish III, former publisher of The Nation magazine, ran for Congress in 1988--as a Democrat--and was defeated.