The National Union for Social Justice
The National Union for Social Justice
By: Coughlin, Charles
Date: November 11, 1934
Source: Social Security Online. "Father Coughlin and the Search for "Social Justice."" <http://www.ssa.gov/history/fcspeech.html> (accessed May 28, 2006).
About the Author: Charles Coughlin was born in 1891 and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1916. He was one of the first religious broadcasters and became a well-known advocate for social justice, whose writings became increasingly anti-Semitic in his later years.
Charles Coughlin was born in Toronto in 1891. At twenty-five, he was ordained as a Catholic priest, and in 1927 began the first radio broadcasts of Catholic services. Coughlin's sermons received a warm reception; writers of the time noted that he had both a keen understanding of what religious radio listeners wanted and a rich vocal quality that made him pleasant to hear. Coughlin's success led CBS radio to begin airing his show in 1930, and the priest was soon receiving mail from 80,000 listeners weekly. At the height of his popularity, his radio program drew one-third of the nation's listeners.
As his influence grew, he broadened his rhetoric to include politics. Favorite themes included a topic he called "social justice." In the years during and following the Great Depression, numerous thinkers began to examine the American economy and its capitalistic underpinnings; Coughlin was one of many who believed that the U.S. economic system offered far greater opportunities to the wealthy than to those of the working class. He frequently urged listeners to seek radical reform in the nation's economic system.
Coughlin was a vocal and unapologetic supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, whom he considered a fellow political and economic reformer. Coughlin frequently told his listeners that America had only two options in the 1932 election: "Roosevelt or ruin." As Roosevelt rolled toward victory, Coughlin was invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention, an invitation he gladly accepted.
Religion and politics historically make unhappy bedfellows, and Coughlin's story is no exception. Following his election, President Roosevelt quickly instituted reforms aimed at restarting the moribund U.S. economy. While FDR's early policies fit Coughlin's vision of monetary reform, he soon embraced policies that were far less radical than Coughlin desired. FDR also began to distance himself from Coughlin and his radical rhetoric, further alienating the once-ardent supporter.
As Roosevelt struggled to implement the New Deal, he faced opposition from numerous business and political interests. Soon, Charles Coughlin was among them, clearly aligned against the man he had previously claimed was the nation's only hope for survival. On November 11, 1934, Coughlin delivered a speech in which he announced the formation of his own reform organization, the National Union for Social Justice.
The National Union for Social Justice
Sunday, November 11, 1934
Today the American people are the judge and jury who will support this Administration and accord it a sport-man's chance to make good. 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 constitutional rights. It appears to be an Administration determined to read into the Constitution the definition of social justice which is already expressed within its very preamble. There we are taught that the object of this Government is to establish justice, to insure domestic tranquility, to promote the general welfare and to provide the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for our posterity.
The task confronting this government consists first, in recognizing and utilizing this constitutional truth; and second, in eliminating and destroying, once and for all, the well known and well established unconstitutional causes of this depression.…
I realize that I am more or less a voice crying in the wilderness. I realize that the doctrine which I preach is disliked and condemned by the princes of wealth. What care I for that! And, more than all else, I deeply appreciate how limited are my qualifications to launch this organization which shall be known as the NATIONAL UNION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE.
But the die is cast! The word has been spoken! And by it I am prepared either to stand or to fall; to fall, if needs be, and thus, to be remembered as an arrant upstart who succeeded in doing nothing more than stirring up the people.
How shall we organize? To what principles of social justice shall we pledge ourselves? What action shall we take? These are practical questions which I ask myself as I recognize the fact that this NATIONAL UNION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE must be established in every county and city and town in these United States of America.
It is for the youth of the nation. It is for the brains of the nation. It is for the farmers of the nation. It is for everyone in the nation.
Establishing my principles upon this preamble, namely, that we are creatures of a beneficent God, made to love and to serve Him in this world and to enjoy Him forever in the next; that all this world's wealth of field, of forest, of mine and of river has been bestowed upon us by a kind Father, therefore I believe that wealth, as we know it, originates from natural resources and from the labor which the children of God expend upon these resources. It is all ours except for the harsh, cruel, and grasping ways of wicked men who first concentrated wealth into the hands of a few, then dominated states, and finally commenced to pit state against state in the frightful catastrophes of commercial warfare.
Following this preamble, these shall be the principles of social justice towards the realization of which we must strive:
- 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.
- 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.
- I believe in nationalizing those public resources which by their very nature are too important to be held in the control of private individuals.
- I believe in private ownership of all other property.
- I believe in upholding the right to private property but in controlling it for the public good.
- I believe in the abolition of the privately owned Federal Reserve Banking system and in the establishment of a Government owned Central Bank.
- 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.
- 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.
- I believe in the cost of production plus a fair profit for the farmer.
- 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.
- I believe in the recall of all non-productive bonds and therefore in the alleviation of taxation.
- I believe in the abolition of tax-exempt bonds.
- I believe in broadening the base of taxation according to the principles of ownership and the capacity to pay.
- I believe in the simplification of government and the further lifting of crushing taxation from the slender revenues of the laboring class.
- 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.
- 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.
These are my beliefs. These are the fundamentals of the organization which I present to you under the name of the NATIONAL UNION FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. It is your privilege to reject or to accept my beliefs; to follow me or to repudiate me.
In summary, Coughlin's organization called for a broad populist rebellion against the existing financial system. Like many reformers before and after him, Coughlin's platform rested on the assertion that the present system was fundamentally inequitable and that only a radical restructuring could correct the injustices. In 1936, Coughlin followed up this announcement by launching a publication called Social Justice Weekly in which he wrote at length about his organization's goals. That same year, he publicly labeled Franklin Roosevelt a "betrayer and liar," claiming that Roosevelt was not a true Democrat. Coughlin also used his influence to support a third-party candidate in the 1936 presidential contest and began to forge ties with far-right wing groups.
By the late 1930s, Coughlin's rhetoric became increasingly anti-Semitic, and his writings focused increasingly on alleged Jewish atrocities. In 1938 following Kristallnacht ("the night of broken glass"), which was a brutal Nazi attack on German Jews, Coughlin claimed that Jews themselves were responsible for the violence. As Coughlin's comments drew praise in Germany, they sparked sharp criticism in the United States, and some radio stations refused to air his programs.
Coughlin's influence effectively ended in 1942, when the U.S. attorney general convened a grand jury to determine whetherSocial Justice Weeklywas publishing antigovernment propaganda. Weeks later the Postal Service revoked Coughlin's second-class mailing status, and after years of effort, the archbishop of Detroit banned Coughlin from publishing his views in any form. Returned to the role of parish priest, Coughlin continued to preach at his original parish for many years.
Charles Coughlin was the first religious leader to fully exploit the power of broadcasting, preaching a message more political than theological. He has been succeeded by hundreds of other religious broadcasters, many of whom have risen to prominence and fallen from grace with equal speed. Countless politicians have also used broadcasting to reach voters, beginning with Coughlin's former hero, Franklin Roosevelt, whose folksy fireside chats became a hallmark of his administration's leadership.
Carpenter, Ronald H. Father Charles E. Coughlin : Surrogate Spokesman for the Disaffected. Westwood, CT: Green-wood Press, 1998.
Coughlin, Charles E. "Am I an Anti-Semite?": 9 addresses on various "isms," answering the question. Arno Press, 1977.
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Besser, James D. "Antihumanism on the Air." New Republic. 185 (1981): 22–23.
Hatch, David. "Group Hails Religious TV Ruling." Electronic Media. 19 (2000): 2–3.
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