Patman, Wright

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John William Wright Patman (1893–1976) served in Congress for forty-seven years from 1929 until 1976, advocating on behalf of small business owners on the economic periphery. In the 1920s he served briefly in the Texas legislature and as a district attorney. After his 1928 election to Congress, Patman refused to work with the seniority system, and instead he carved out a leadership position for himself. Patman's career was shaped by the Depression-era economics of scarcity. His legislative agenda included immediate payment of the World War I soldiers' bonus, the impeachment of Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, the elimination of chain stores, and government ownership of the Federal Reserve System. Permeating each of these concerns was a commitment to the Democratic Party and liberal economic populism.

Patman believed that World War I veterans had not received just compensation. He argued that immediate payment of the soldiers' bonus, passed in 1924 as an insurance policy due in 1945, could also be used to expand the currency, thus remedying the nation's economic woes. Patman was tenacious in his advocacy and came into conflict with Mellon, who attacked the measure as financially unsound. Patman therefore pushed unsuccessfully for Mellon's impeachment, but created enough of a controversy to cause Mellon to resign from his appointment as ambassador to Great Britain. Patman's bonus advocacy generated other political problems: He encouraged the June 1932 Bonus March to Washington, D.C. that resulted in a military attack on the World War I veterans and proved to be a fiasco for Hoover's 1932 re-election bid. After Franklin D. Roosevelt's election, Patman continued to push for the measure despite presidential opposition. In 1936, Congress enacted the bonus, without the inflationary provisions, over Roosevelt's veto.

During the 1930s Patman turned his attention to the problems of economic concentration within the private and public sectors. He become a leader in the antimonopoly movement, and conducted three legislative campaigns—one successful and two not: the first to amend the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914; the second to implement a progressive tax on the earnings of chain stores; and the third to require government ownership of the Federal Reserve. The Robinson-Patman Act, passed in 1936, sought to eliminate discriminatory wholesale pricing whereby large retailers received discounts unavailable to smaller merchants. The measures dealing with chain stores and the Federal Reserve failed. Patman fought for reform of the Federal Reserve System, though, until his death, fearing that private bankers exerted too much influence over the nation's monetary supply.



Patman, Wright. Bankerteering, Bonuseering, Melloneering. 1934.

Schwarz, Jordan A. The New Dealers: Power Politics in the Age of Roosevelt. 1993.

Wright Patman Papers. Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas.

Young, Nancy Beck. Wright Patman: Populism, Liberalism, and the American Dream. 2000.

Nancy Beck Young