Planning for the Pew family trusts (founders of Sun Oil) dates to at least 1932 when estate work began for the four Pew children. Fear of inheritance “super-taxes” proposed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to finance his New Deal was in the air in the 1930s and drove a number of wealthy families to find novel ways to shield their assets from Roosevelt’s various revenue acts. These trusts were meant only to come into effect after the death of each family member, and it was not until 1948 when the four Pews sat down to invest into existence the Pew Memorial Foundation (their father’s posthumous memorial) that they made headlines in terms of secular philanthropy. The Pews saw Roosevelt’s taxes as not only the first blow in a new type of class warfare, but also as a pointed attack against the free market ideologies that allowed individual choice in the ultimate investment of one’s money. This article follows the Pews’ attempts to navigate their responsibilities to family wealth. By examining the logic and theological contours of the Pews’ insistence upon a separation between public and private, profit and loss, and secular market, political lobbying, and religious interest, we learn not only about conservative Protestant influence on American law, but also about the context for the creation of an independent philanthropic “third sector” tied to the evolving role of organized religion in twentieth-century American society.
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