| Leon Fraser |
BIS Economic Adviser Per Jacobsson (left) and BIS President Leon Fraser at the World Monetary and Economic Conference, London (June-July 1933)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Cause of death
|Alma mater||Columbia College|
President of the Bank of International Settlements 1933-35. Shot himself in April 1945.
Leo W. Fraser, Jr. was an American lawyer and banker who was President of the Bank of International Settlements. He shot himself in April 1945, as the war was almost over.
He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the only child of John Fraser, a Scottish immigrant, and Mary (Lovat) Fraser, who was partly of French-Canadian descent. His mother died at his birth; his father turned the child over to a fellow Scot, Ronald E. Bonar, and then disappeared; according to report, he later went to the Klondike. Bonar and his wife, Susan (Dayton) Bonar, adopted the child.
Although Fraser did not use his foster father's name, he seemed to hold his foster parents in deep affection. Bonar, who had a hat manufacturing plant in New York City, spent much time on the family farm in North Granville, New York, which Fraser always looked upon as his home.
After preparing at Trinity, an Episcopal school in New York City, Fraser attended Columbia College, where he took a particular interest in such extracurricular activities as the literary magazine (of which he was editor-in-chief), the undergraduate newspaper, and the varsity debating team (of which he was captain). He was graduated in 1910.
He received an A. M. degree in June 1912. The next five years he spent enrolled, often simultaneously, in various Columbia faculties: in the School of Law; in the newly founded School of Journalism, from which he received a B. Litt. degree in June 1913; and in the Graduate Faculties. He received an A. M. degree in June 1912, with a major in English and a minor in law, and a Ph. D. degree in June 1915, with a major in politics and minors in law and international law, presenting as his dissertation a study of "English Opinion of the American Constitution and Government (1783-1798)." Although he did not graduate from the law school, he was admitted to the New York bar in 1913.
World War 1
While a graduate student at Columbia, Fraser also served on the editorial staff of the New York World (1913-14) and spoke on street corners for various political candidates.
In 1915 he joined the Columbia faculty as a lecturer (later instructor) in public law, but his academic career came to an abrupt end. In April 1916, while Fraser (at the suggestion of Dean Frederick P. Keppel of Columbia) was giving speeches for the American Association for International Conciliation, a peace society headed by Columbia's president, Nicholas Murray Butler, he was reported by the newspapers as having said that anyone who went to the Plattsburgh military training camp was a "benighted fool."
Fraser was called before a committee of the Columbia trustees, and though he denied making such a statement or holding such an opinion, the trustees next year recommended against his reappointment.
The episode, a bitter blow to Fraser, was of great importance in shaping his future attitudes and career. He had meanwhile enlisted in the army, in which he rose from private to major and served in the Judge Advocate General's Department of the A. E. F. in France.
Post war career
Upon his return, in 1920, he served briefly in the Bureau of War Risk Insurance in Washington and, the next year, as executive officer and acting director of the federal Veterans' Bureau. He then joined the Paris staff of Coudert Brothers, an international law firm which specialized in counseling American banking and industrial companies on European loans and investments.
Leaving Coudert Brothers, Fraser worked from 1924 to 1927 as general counsel for the Dawes plan and as Paris representative of the office of the Agent General for Reparation Payments. Three years (1927-30) followed as the New York correspondent of the Boston legal firm of Ropes, Gray, Boyden and Perkins.
In 1930 he returned to Paris at the invitation of Owen D. Young to serve as his legal and economic expert in connection with the drafting of the Young Plan and the charter of the Bank for International Settlements. When the B. I. S. was organized in 1930, Fraser was made director and alternate of the president, Gates W. McGarrah; he was president from 1933 to 1935.
Mysterious Wall Street Suicide
Drew Pearson wrote in 1945, under the heading "Mysterious Wall Street Suicide":
Early this week, Leon Fraser, head of the First National Bank of New York, popular, able, in the prime of his life, went up too his old boyhood home in New York State, carefully penned three notes, and shot himself. In one note he said: "Except for this mental depression, I have everything to live for, good friends, lovely business associates; and a good future in this world with financial ease."
No other clues were left regarding Leon Fraser's suicide. It was one of the mysteries of the banking world. But in Washington, certain facts were known about Fraser's work as head of the Bank of International Settlements and his contacts with the Germans just as Hitler was building up his power.
For five years, 1930 to 1935 Fraser was the mainspring and finally head.of the Bank. In 1934, he presided at the German Foreign Debt Conference at the Reichsbank in Berlin; where the Dawes' Plan and the Young Plan were secretly junked, This marked the end of attempts to collect German obligations. It wiped the slate clean for Germany financially.
Later in the same year, Fraser met again with German bankers, and in 1935 he conferred with Hitler and received a gift from the grateful Nazi Government. And when he retired from the Bank of International Settlements that year, the Nazis gave him another gift - a large antique silver plate. Two other Governments also gave Fraser presents when he retired - Japan and Italy. Aside from these three Axis partners, it wast considered significant that none of the other 26 countries on the ﬁanh’s board gave Fraser a farewell token.
Fraser kept up his correspondence with Hitler's Finance Minister Hjalmar Schacht, until 1941, two years after the European War started. Commenting on his visit with Hitler, Fraser recently said: "I confess,that he is the one man who completely fooled me." Fraser also held a small amount of German Government bonds, and some securities in the Dresdner Bank, Siemens and Halske and Deutsche Erdels.
"A vigorous opponent of the Bretton Woods Agreement; Fraser was-scheduled for a rehearing before a Congressional Committee, where several Congressmen planned to cross examine him on his earlier history in forgiving Nazi war obligations. Their contention is that Bretton Woods is aimed to cure some of the international money machinations which went on secretly in Berlin and Basle in which Fraser participated. Whether this had anything-to do with Fraser's mental depression and his mysterious suicide may never be known."