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Chapter III: Congress

My father served in Congress for ten years, from 1937 to 1947, perhaps the most eventful and crucial years in United States history. When he entered Congress, the New Deal was at its peak of power and influence, and the United States was a neutral country faced with an increasingly tense international situation. When my father left Congress in 1947, the nation had moved sharply if not irrevocably to the right, and the United States was the only intact major power presiding over a world which had been devastated by eight years of global warfare.

While in Congress, my father had four overriding concerns: the plight of the American worker, monetary and banking reform, agriculture and its place in American society, and last but certainly not least, peace for America and peace for the world. Two of these concerns, labor relations and agriculture, made my father a New Deal Democrat. One concern, monetary reform, put him to the left of the New Deal, and foreign affairs made him somewhat of an isolationist.

My father's concern about the American worker found expression almost immediately during his first term in Congress. He put himself in the forefront of efforts to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, the last major piece of New Deal legislation. Thanks to the efforts of my father and other progressive Congressmen on the floor of the House, the Act finally became law in 1938. It was opposed not only by conservative Republicans, but also by many Southern Democrats and by powerfully placed Northeastern Democrats, like John J. O'Connor, Chairman of the House Rules Committee.

The Bill as passed provided for a nationwide minimum wage, maximum regular hours, and a ban on child labor for industries engaged in interstate commerce. This was the first time the federal government attempted to regulate working conditions permanently throughout the country. It was the basis upon which future acts would regulate occupational safety, environmental conditions, and other matters affecting the well-being of the nation's workers.

My father was most proud of three achievements for which he had been personally responsible while he served in Congress. The first of these was the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second was the establishment of the Farm Security Administration, which attempted to aid smaller and tenant farmers. And the third was the School Lunch Program. He looked upon school lunch programs as an ideal solution to two major national problems: farm surpluses and malnutrition among disadvantaged children. The School Lunch Program became a reality during my father's last years in office, and it is still important today. It is perhaps the most effective use for surplus farm commodities.

Three other areas in which my father played an important role were more disappointing to him, but nevertheless they were major factors which affected his Congressional career. These were foreign affairs, the control or exposure of subversive activities, and monetary reform. In the area of monetary and banking reform, my father was nothing short of radical. He favored nationalization of the Federal Reserve Banks. In his view, the Federal Reserve System should be completely under the control of the federal government, and more especially the political administration of any particular time. All members of the Federal Reserve Board should be appointed or removed by the President, and they ought to be political appointees, in his opinion. The Federal Reserve Board as it functions today as an independent agency, frequently at odds with the President and with members appointed for staggered seven-year terms, would cease to exist in my father's plan. Federal Reserve Banks would no longer be bankers' banks with private member banks owning stock in them. Finally, in my father's view, the national debt should be funded by the Federal Reserve System and there should be no interest on that debt.

It was his belief that bankers created money when they purchased government securities in open market operations. In my father's view, private banks must not be allowed to create government credit and then charge interest on it. According to him, government credit, or money, should come from the Federal Reserve System on a virtually unlimited basis, dependent only on the needs or expenses of the federal - government.

Such a system, based on what could be described as a commodity dollar, would be inflationary, to say the least. There would be no attempt to base America's monetary system on gold, silver, or any kind of metallic standard. This was Bryanism, or turn-of-the-century populism carried to its ultimate extreme. My father represented a Congressional District that was primarily agricultural in the midst of a great depression, which saw a drastic decline in the amount of money in circulation. My father's program was tailor-made for farmers during the Great Depression. In the inflationary economy that would develop as a result of the commodity dollar and a nationalized federal reserve system, farm prices would increase sharply; and lemon, orange and walnut growers could pay off their debts rapidly and with little difficulty. Also, with a lack of monetary restraint, the federal government would be able to embark on a public works program even more ambitious than those of the mid-1930s. My father saw a nationalized federal reserve and commodity dollar as a panacea not only for hard-pressed farmers, but for unemployed workers as well. Finally, taxpayers would benefit through the elimination of interest on the national debt. His program, however, would be a disaster for the banking community and anyone who had invested in government bonds at that time. Because of my father's monetary reformism, same of his bitterest opponents were bankers.

Today, tens of millions of Americans depend upon the interest on the national debt for their very survival. Mutual funds, insurance companies, charities, churches, retirement funds, banks, and even ordinary businesses invest heavily in U.S. government bonds. All retirement funds, including Social Security, would go bankrupt immediately if the interest on the national debt were eliminated. My father's program of monetary reform was very attractive during a period of shrinking money and credit when a high percentage of Americans were farmers, or at least rural, and when relatively few were retired. In today's highly interdependent, urbanized, and inflationary economy, it is far less attractive. My father's monetary views hindered his Congressional career and they produced enemies which he did not need. Partly because of his monetary policies, he never got a place on the House Banking and Currency Committee. That was a bitter disappointment to him.

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