Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937
BANKHEAD-JONES FARM TENANT ACT OF 1937
The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act was passed by Congress on July 22, 1937. It authorized a modest credit program to assist tenant farmers to purchase land, and it was the culmination of a long effort to secure legislation for their benefit. The law was one part of the New Deal's program to address the massive problems of rural poverty and landlessness, but its impact proved to be so limited that its importance was mainly symbolic.
Federal financing of farm purchases by tenants was first considered in Congress as the Bankhead bill of 1935. That measure proposed a billion-dollar bond issue to enable the government to purchase land, evaluate its suitability for cultivation, and resell it on easy terms to tenants and sharecroppers whose loans would be secured by mortgages and supervision of their farming. Although promotion of small farm ownership was hardly a radical concept, the bill received strong conservative opposition. The Senate passed it in June 1935, but it died in the House of Representatives.
By 1936 farm purchase lending was an administration objective, advocated by the Resettlement Administration (RA) and supported by the president. But the Bankhead–Jones Act of 1937 was far short of what the RA desired. Instead of a large bond issue, it appropriated a token $10 million for loans for fiscal 1938, rising to a maximum of $50 million per year by fiscal 1940. Provision for government purchase and resale of land, regarded as crucial by the RA, was eliminated; instead, all loans and farms being financed required approval by committees of local farmers. No farms could be financed unless they were deemed viable family units by local standards. Credit preference went to an upper stratum of tenants who owned implements and who could make down payments. Although not satisfied with such limited legislation, RA leaders considered it the best that could be obtained at the time. The new lending program was assigned to the RA, which was renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA).
The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act was passed near the end of the New Deal, as conservative opposition increased in Congress. Beginning in 1941, Congress tied loans to average farm values in each county, a restriction that shut down the program in hundreds of poor counties. From 1938 until Congress terminated the FSA in 1946, the agency made only 44,300 purchase loans. Moreover, analyzing the program in 1949, economist Edward Banfield concluded that many of the farms financed by the FSA had proved to be inadequate units as requirements for successful farming rapidly increased.
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Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act. U.S. Statutes at Large, 50, Part 1(1937): 522-33.
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Paul E. Mertz