Chronology

A chronology to assist site users in contextualizing the documents on the Catholics and Politics website. Includes links to related documents on the site.

Fr. Charles E. Coughlin Chronology

  • 1932 Election Campaign
    • Coughlin campaigns avidly for FDR. FDR is happy to have his support and used him to promote his own ends. Coughlin, for his part, thinks that he is going to exercise considerable influence on the incoming FDR Administration.
  • January 17, 1933
    • Coughlin visits newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt in New York City.
  • March 1933
    • Coughlin attends FDR's Inauguration, pledges continued support.
    • Detroit banking crisis. Coughlin charges that Detroit bankers approved fraudulent loans to themselves to cover their investments during the 1929 stock market collapse and as a result he opposes any use of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Funds to shore up the still solvent Detroit banks. Over protests by its financial leaders, Secretary of Treasury William Woodin appoints federal conservators to assume control of resources of two major Detroit banks. Coughlin decides he must defend the administration, and acting as its unofficial spokesman, he attacks the Detroit banking community. It's unclear as to whether he was actually asked by administration officials to speak on the matter.
  • 1932-1934
    • Coughlin devotes many of his broadcasts to money issues. Believes ratio of credit dollars to gold dollars is out of proportion. Currency, he thinks, needs to be revalued, and the price of gold should be raised from $20.67 an ounce to $41.34 (2 to 1) an ounce. Gold, he believes, isn't real wealth, only a medium of exchange. Advocates the nationalization of all gold, because he believes that international bankers use gold (esp. Rothschilds) as an instrument of private power.
  • Early 1933
    • Coughlin attacks Glass-Steagall Act, which strengthens the Federal Reserve System, and which he thinks will concentrate wealth in the hands of few and destroy independent banks. With time, Coughlin will become a foe of the Federal Reserve System and work to abolish it.
  • June 1933
    • Six Senators and 59 Congressmen sign a request that Coughlin be named economic adviser to the London World Monetary and Economic Conference, which seeks to check the Depression through currency stabilization and other economic measures.
  • August 1933
    • Coughlin begins criticizing the NRA and AAA in letters to FDR, though at this point he continues to support it publicly. Attacks Henry Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, and braintruster Rexford Tugwell for policies, esp. crop reduction designed to raise farm prices, though continues public support.
  • November 1933
    • Coughlin attacks former Democratic Presidential candidate Al Smith, implying he's a paid stooge of the banking interests, because Smith has been criticizing FDR. Despite misgivings about the New Deal, Coughlin delivers a speech on November 27 wherein he coins the phrase "Roosevelt or ruin," reinforcing his continued public support for New Deal programs.
  • Fall 1933
    • Believing there is a money famine that would be remedied with more silver coinage, Coughlin advocates silver coin production. More silver, he thinks, would put more money in circulation and expand American trade with silver-using nations of the world.
  • December 1933
    • Father John A. Ryan says Father Coughlin is "On the side of the angels" for his work on Social Justice. (New York Times, December, 3, 1933).
  • April 1934
    • Aiming to block silver legislation moving through Congress, Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau, with President Roosevelt's approval, publishes the names of all persons and organizations with substantial investments in silver who might benefit from passage of the legislation. Father Coughlin's Radio League of the Little Flower is on the list. Coughlin bitterly denounces Morganthau as a tool of Wall Street. The conflict marks the first major break between Coughlin and the administration.
  • November 11, 1934
    • Coughlin announces the formation of the National Union for Social Justice (NUSJ) and an accompanying sixteen-point program. He himself will serve as president of the organization, whose proposals are a mix of papal teaching and Midwestern agrarian reforms. Followers of Coughlin are invited to join the movement and transform the sixteen points into reality, arguing that a strong NUSJ would be able to influence the policies of the two major parties.
  • December 2, 1934
  • January 27, 1935
    • Coughlin attacks the administration-supported proposal to have the U.S. join the World Court, arguing that it is organized by international bankers. Fr. John A. Ryan would speak in favor of the World Court the very next day. Coughlin's opposition is crucial in defeating the World Court protocol in the Senate.
  • January-February, 1935
    • Coughlin asserts the administration is "wedded basically to the philosophy of the money changers," and "engaged in keeping America safe for the plutocrats."
  • March 3, 1935
    • Coughlin claims in a broadcast that the "First two years of the New Deal shall be remembered as two years of compromise, two years of social planning, two years of endeavoring to mix bad with good, two years of surrender, two years of matching the puerile, puny brains of idealists against the virile viciousness of business and finance."
  • April 1935
    • Coughlin increases his air time and initiates a series of public rallies to generate more enthusiasm for the NUSJ. Fifteen thousand people show up for the official launch of the Michigan chapter in Detroit. Several politicians share the stage with Coughlin, including William Lemke, the Republican Representative from North Dakota who would run for president on the Union Party ticket in 1936. Coughlin insists that the NUSJ is not a political party, saying, "we are above politics and above politicians."
  • May 22, 1935
    • Twenty-three thousand Coughlinites crowd into New York's Madison Square Garden to hear the priest attack Roosevelt and the capitalistic system. Coughlin proposes a union of farmers, laborers, and small businessmen to work within their respective parties to nominate social justice candidates in the presidential primaries. By contrast, a crowd of 100 hold an anti-Coughlin rally in New York's Columbus Circle.
  • September 10, 1935
    • Democratic Senator from Louisiana, Huey Long, associated in the public mind with the ideas of Father Coughlin, is assassinated by a Baton Rouge physician in his home state. Though Long and Coughlin were not close friends, Coughlin calls the killing "the most regrettable thing in modern history."
  • November 17, 1935
  • January 1936
  • July 1936
  • August 1936
    • National Union for Social Justice Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio. William Lemke is nominated by the NUSJ (in fact, he is chosen by Coughlin) and Coughlin says "If I don't deliver 9,000,000 votes for William Lemke, I'm through with radio forever." He then dramatically collapses and has to be assisted from the platform. It is announced that Coughlin had been suffering from heat prostration and nervous indigestion. Coughlin claims that the NUSJ is not a political party (which he believed were prone to corruption) and that he is endorsing individuals only.
  • September 1936
    • The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano reprimands Coughlin for his violent criticism of FDR.
    • Coughlin holds a mass meeting of more than 80,000 in Riverview Park, Chicago, claims there that he has not been reprimanded by the Vatican for his activities, and denounces FDR bitterly. Repeatedly accuses FDR and various administration officials of holding communist sympathies.
    • The NUSJ and Father Coughlin prove to be influential in the September Democratic primaries in Michigan and Massachusetts. When candidates backed by Coughlin do surprisingly well in the polls, Democrats are alarmed.
  • October 1936
    • The Vatican announces that Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Papal Secretary of State, is going to make an extended tour of the United States. The American press assumes that Cardinal Pacelli's visit is associated with the political activities of Fr. Coughlin, though no reason for the visit is stated. Pacelli refuses to answer questions about Coughlin. Coughlin ceases using insulting language against FDR, but continues to link the President to communism every chance he gets.
    • John A. Ryan delivers his radio broadcast "Roosevelt Safeguards America" on October 8, denouncing Coughlin's monetary theories as 90% incorrect and asserting that "the charge of communism directed at President Roosevelt is the silliest, falsest, most cruel and most unjust accusation ever made against a President in all the years of American history." Coughlin responds that he never called the President a communist, but rather, that he had called FDR's theories "communistic." Ryan receives much critical mail for his speech--of 1200 letters, most are supportive of Coughlin and bitterly critical of Ryan.
    • By the eve of the election, Coughlin is not publicly supported by any member of the Catholic hierarchy except his own bishop, Michael Gallagher, and Archbishop Francis Beckman of Dubuque, Iowa. Several Bishops are openly critical of Coughlin's activities by this time. According to Monsignor Maurice Sheehy, 103 of 106 Bishops voted for FDR in 1936. Most Catholic publications turn against Coughlin, but some, such as the Brooklyn Tablet and Michigan Catholicremain loyal to the priest.
  • November 3, 1936
    • President Roosevelt wins the presidential election by a landslide: Roosevelt pulls in 60.8% of the popular vote, Alfred Landon gets 36.5%, and Lemke, the Coughlin-backed Union Party candidate, received 2% of the vote. See this election map for a breakdown of votes by state.
  • November 7, 1936

 

Fr. John A. Ryan Chronology

  • September 1932
    • Franklin Roosevelt writes to John Ryan during his campaign for president, informing him that Raymond Moley was the head of his staff of advisors and asking if Ryan would offer Moley his views from time to time. Ryan responds that he would be glad to do this. Generally speaking, however, in contrast with Coughlin, Ryan is not enthusiastic about Roosevelt during this campaign.
  • November 1932
    • After the election, Ryan writes a letter to Raymond Moley commending a Roosevelt speech committing the administration to a redistribution of purchasing power.
  • January 1933
    • Ryan writes to Rexford Tugwell, another Roosevelt staffer, commending him on a speech that suggests Roosevelt will follow an active governmental policy to address the economic problems plaguing the country due to the Depression. The letters to Moley and Tugwell are indicative of Ryan's growing approval of the general thrust of the New Deal measures.
  • July 1933
    • The National Recovery Administration's (NRA) public relations office asks Ryan to help write a letter that will be signed by the President. The letter asks clergymen to support the codes of the NRA.
    • Frances Perkins, the new head of the Department of Labor, asks Ryan to join the advisory council of the U.S. Employment Service. Ryan accepts, later chairing the group. Such activity within the New Deal administration would be common for Ryan, whose belief that government expenditure aimed at increasing the purchasing power of Americans agreed with that of most New Dealers.
  • September 1933
    • Father Ryan becomes a domestic prelate, raising him to the level of monsignor and bestowing him with the title Right Reverend John A. Ryan. Later, Father Coughlin will mock the title and Monsignor Ryan's support for the New Deal by calling Ryan the "Right Reverend New Dealer."
  • December 1933
    • Ryan is asked what he thinks of Coughlin, and responds "As between those who are fighting for social justice and those who are fighting against it, Father Coughlin is on the side of the angels. Even though he makes mistakes, he is stirring up the animals, and that has to be done by somebody." When criticized for allegedly implying Coughlin's followers were "animals," Ryan responds that he intended no offense.
  • April 1934
    • In an article on the "New Deal and Social Justice" published in Commonweal, a lay Catholic journal, Ryan argued that the New Deal "implies an economic system that is neither individualism nor socialism" and if followed would provide a middle way "between capitalism and Communism." Ryan would repeatedly argue that rather than exhibiting communist tendencies, New Deal programs were in line with the teachings of Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI, which held that when necessary the state should modify the economic system to ensure just distribution of wealth.
  • July 1934
    • General Hugh S. Johnson, administrator of the NRA, appoints Ryan to a three person Industrial Appeals Board to hear complaints of small businessmen who felt burdened by NRA codes. He is paid a $6,000 a year salary for the work, though the Board exists for only 10 months, hearing 69 cases before the Supreme Court declared it illegal.
  • January 1935
    • Father John A. Ryan speaks publicly in favor of United States participation in the World Court, a court of global justice that would hear international disputes. The measure establishing the Court was strongly supported by the U.S. Senate. Father Coughlin speaks strongly against the Court, claiming it would cast "America into the very thralldom of communistic atheism." Inundated with objections to the Court from Coughlin followers, the measure is defeated. Though Ryan is angry, he refrains from openly criticizing Fr. Coughlin for his role in the matter, saying "Freedom of speech is more important than the preaching of Father Coughlin." The controversy underscores Coughlin's power to affect legislation.
  • February 1935
    • Ryan reverses his earlier opinion on Coughlin, after the Detroit priest's increasingly angry attacks on the New Deal and Roosevelt. To his sister Barbara, he writes that Coughlin "is proposing no constructive measure of social justice. He is merely denouncing social injustice and most of the time in an intemperate and extreme manner."
  • Summer 1935
  • September-October 1936
  • October 8, 1936
    • Ryan delivers "Roosevelt Safeguards America." The speech specifically counters Coughlin's statements, particularly his insinuation that Roosevelt is a communist (Ryan calls this "ridiculous"), and his monetary policies. "Father Coughlin's explanation of our economic maladies is at least 50 per cent wrong," he asserts, and "his monetary remedies are at least 90 per cent wrong." Implementing these measures would be disastrous. Moreover, "Father Coughlin's monetary theories and proposals find no support in the encyclicals of either Pope Leo XIII or Pope Pius XI." Ryan receives more than 1200 letters responding to his speech, most of them angry with Ryan's criticism of Coughlin.
  • October 1936
  • November 3, 1936

_______________

Sources:
Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. (New York: Knopf, 1982).
Francis Broderick, Right Reverend New Dealer, John A. Ryan. (New York: MacMillan, 1963).
George Flynn, American Catholics and the Roosevelt Presidency, 1932-1936. (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1968).
Charles Tull, Father Coughlin and the New Deal. (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1965).

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