Felix Cohen, the lawyer and scholar who wrote the Handbook of Federal Indian Law (1942), was enormously influential in American Indian policy making. Yet histories of the Indian New Deal, a 1934
program of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, neglect Cohen and focus on John Collier, commissioner of Indian affairs within the Department of the Interior (DOI). Alice Beck Kehoe examines why Cohen,
who as DOI assistant solicitor wrote the legislation for the Indian Reorganization Act (1934) and Indian Claims Commission Act (1946), has received less attention. Even more neglected was the
contribution Cohen's wife, Lucy Kramer Cohen, an anthropologist trained by Franz Boas, made to the process.
Kehoe's vivid portrayals bring the Progressive and New Deal eras to life.
With this engaging biography of both Cohens, distinguished anthropologist Kehoe adds a unique interpretive layer to the existing accounts of the couple's work and legacy.
Kehoe argues that, due to anti-Semitism in 1930s America, Cohen could not speak for
his legislation before Congress, and that Collier, an upper-class WASP, became the spokesman as well as the administrator. According to the author, historians of the Indian New Deal have not given due
weight to Cohen's work, nor have they recognized its foundation in his liberal secular Jewish culture. Both Felix and Lucy Cohen shared a belief in the moral duty of mitzvah, creating a commitment to
the "true and the just" that was rooted in their Jewish intellectual and moral heritage, and their Social Democrat principles.
A Passion for the True and Just takes a fresh look at the
Indian New Deal and the radical reversal of US Indian policies it caused, moving from ethnocide to retention of Indian homelands. Shifting attention to the Jewish tradition of moral obligation that
served as a foundation for Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen (and her professor Franz Boas), the book discusses Cohen's landmark contributions to the principle of sovereignty that so significantly
influenced American legal philosophy.