By Rev. Charles E. Coughlin

Royal Oak, Michigan, 1935
244 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
November 2011

This volume was published in 1935. It is a set of Fr. Charles Coughlin’s radio broadcasts from November 1934 to March 1935. It is important to understand that when these essays begin Fr. Coughlin is a strong supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt. During the course of the five months of these broadcasts he becomes increasingly disenchanted with Roosevelt but has not yet fully broken with him.

Fr. Coughlin’s broadcasts were extremely popular. His following was primarily among the city unemployed and working classes and the farm community. He was never very popular among the wealthier classes, and his positions do seem to carry a good deal of class warfare within them.

Coughlin has two primary enemies: Russian Communism and current Capitalism of the United States. With the frame of those two central enemies, the banking community of the United States is taken as the central evil within the U.S..

However, Coughlin does not present an alternative within the world of economic theory, but within the theories of social justice. His view is that the organization of society should not be centrally on economic and political criteria, but on moral grounds. While he is a Roman Catholic and certainly much influenced by his religion, his position is much broader than Roman Catholicism. Instead he presents his program within the frame of an organization he founded:

“It has already subscribed to the principle that human rights must take precedence over financial rights. It recognizes that these rights far outweigh in the scales of justice either political rights or so-called constitution rights.”

His National Union For Social Justice has a 16 point program that one must subscribe to if one wishes to be aligned with him. I will quote these exactly as he presents them in his book and from his radio program.

I believe in liberty of conscience and liberty of education, not permitting the state to dictate either my worship to my God or my chosen avocation in life.

2. I believe that every citizen willing to work and capable of working shall receive a just, living, annual wage which will enable him both to maintain and educate his family according to the standards of American decency.

3. I believe in nationalizing those public resources which by their very nature are too important to be held in the control of private individuals.

4. I believe in private ownership of all other property.

5. I believe in upholding the right to private property but in controlling it for the public good.

6. I believe in the abolition of the privately owned Federal Reserve Banking system and in the establishment of a Government owned Central Bank.

7. I believe in rescuing from the hands of private owners the right to coin and regulate the value of money, which right must be restored to Congress where it belongs.

8. I believe that one of the chief duties of this Government owned Central Bank is to maintain the cost of living on an even keel and arrange for the repayment of dollar debts with equal value dollars.

9. I believe in the cost of production plus a fair profit for the farmer.

10. I believe not only in the right of the laboring man to organize in unions but also in the duty of the Government, which that laboring man supports, to protect these organizations against the vested interests of wealth and of intellect.

11. I believe in the recall of all non-productive bonds and therefore in the alleviation of taxation.

12. I believe in the abolition of tax exempt bonds.

13. I believe in broadening the base of taxation according to the principles of ownership and the capacity to pay.

14. I believe in the simplification of government and the further lifting of crushing taxation from the slender revenues of the laboring class.

15. I believe that, in the event of a war for the defense of our nation and its liberties, there shall be a conscription of wealth as well as a conscription of men.

16. I believe in preferring the sanctity of human rights to the sanctity of property rights; for the chief concern of government shall be for the poor because, as it is witnessed, the rich have ample means of their own to care for themselves.

Cloughlin was quite demanding of followers. If you wish to join the “Union” (which, at least in the early days cost nothing) you were expected to accept all 16 propositions in their totality. He tells people bluntly that if you can’t accept it all, then you simply don’t belong in the Union.

He is at pains to constantly remind the listeners that the two great enemies are contemporary American capitalism which primary benefits the rich, and Russian Communism which is “dolism.” He wants the government mainly out of people’s economic lives, but not with a system of banking which benefits the rich and leaves the underclasses without hope.

He has two primary programs he wants:

1. Wages must always be with yearly contracts, and those must be at a wage that allows a decently life at American standards.

2. Every person who wishes to work must be guaranteed a job at those conditions and if private industry can’t produce these jobs, then the government should hire people under those same conditions. Coughlin sites the WPA and CCC as examples of this socially useful labor.

He is also very concerned about farmers demanding for them that they receive cost plus a reasonable profit for their food stuffs.

A central belief of Coughlin is:

“. . . one of the worst evils of decadent capitalism, namely, that production must be only at a profit for the owners, for the capitalist, and not for the laborer.”

He claims that because 71% of people were in poverty in 1934, one needs to shift to a theory of social justice rather than capitalism, which means

“Social justice advocates the production for use at a profit for the national welfare as well as the owner…”

Interestingly he is not a throw back to the Wobblies of the 19th century who blamed modern modes of production for the evils of poverty. Rather he argues that while modern technology is replacing the need for workers, the notion of progress and science and knowledge will mean it will continue to do so. He argues that government will have to have programs of public workers to be sure everyone who wishes to, indeed, has labor.

It isn’t just a just wage that the government must protect, but the right to a job should be a central human right.

He is certainly an optimist: He thinks (still at last 1934) Roosevelt is the best hope for this fulfillment and that: “Henceforth our national motto shall be, Security for all. Henceforth our laws will be so written and so executed that financial privileges for the few will disappear.” He even credits Roosevelt with about to do this.

I found it quite ironic that he is a vehement nationalist and despite his great compassion for the American poor, he seems virtually unmoved by the poverty of people in other areas of the world. He was vehemently opposed to World Court and League of Nations and basically one who seems to have had no concern with the rest of the world at all.

His primary enemies are:

1. The U.S. banking system of loansbr
2. Excess wealth in anyone’s hands.

By March 3, 1935 he announces his growing displeasure with Roosevelt for not doing what Roosevelt himself said he would do: “. . . Drive the money-changers from the temple.”

Yet on March 11, 1935 in response to an attack on him he pledges support for Roosevelt and that “I support him today and will support him tomorrow. . .” So he hadn’t yet fully given up on Roosevelt.

This book ends with the essay of March 24th. However, what seems to be most remembered about Coughlin today is what happens AFTER this time. By early 1936 he utterly gave up on Roosevelt because Roosevelt refused to break with nature of the banking system. It seems everything about him went down hill from there, most especially following the assassination of Huey Long whom Coughlin was supporting for the presidency against Roosevelt in the Democratic primary.

Soon he seems to have gone completely off the charts in his views, though I have never read any of those views myself, just read about them. It is said he began to shift his view of just bankers as enemies to the view that the primary ethnicity of bankers was Jewish and eventually that all Jews were enemies of the common person, and in Coughlin’s rabid anti-communism of Russia, he sided with both Hitler and Mussolini.

In the essays in the book about which I am writing, none of those later radical views are there. He speaks very supportively and kindly of Jews and sees the working class Jews as just as much a group of oppressed people as were Christians and non-religious people. (In his book he doesn’t mention ANY Americans as being anything other than Christians, Jews and non-believers.)

I must say, I found most of his views in this particular volume were quite attractive to me. Where it is said he moved in later years is nothing I would ever support. But, the notion of a nation based not on Capitalism, nor Socialism or Communism, but on notions of social justice – that seems like an incredible dream to me, and, alas and alack, a utopian ideal at the same time.

Nonetheless, I have spent a great deal of my life working for bits and pieces of formal legislation that would support notions rooted in social justice, not in any of the major theories of government and economics.

I did not just stumble on this book by accident. I have been working on a history of my old St. Louis neighborhood, Dogtown. Fr. P.J. O’Connor was pastor there for 40 years and a major influence on me, indirectly prompting me to later seek a life as a philosopher, one who did much work on the ethics of society and political philosophy. From 1925 to 1932, years before I was born, Fr. O’Connor published a monthly parish bulletin of about 16 pages each month, almost all articles written by him. These bulletins called “Let’s Go” are treasures of Dogtown history, especially of the parish of St. James which is the Catholic parish of the neighborhood.

By 1930 P.J. (as most of us called him) was writing essays on what he termed his “Christian Communism,” a theory of social justice which was vehemently opposed to Bolshevistic Communism. He worried that if people didn’t adopt Christian Communism during those Depression years they might well be lured to the Lenin-Stalinist views of society. In one of those essays he defended Fr. Coughlin against attacks by Cardinal O’Connell of Boston. It was that essay of P.J.’s which first brought Coughlin to my attention and I sought out his works sort of stumbling on this book of his 1934-35 essays.

It seems P.J. had some mixed feeling about Coughlin’s message (but in his case we are talking about the Coughlin between about 1929-1932), nonetheless, he was supportive of much of it and most especially of Coughlin’s right to speak out about his views.

P.J. himself doesn’t mention Coughlin after his defense of him against Cardinal O'Connell's attack. but is set of his set of Depression era essays are well worth reading. The article defending Coughlin is among this set.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu