THE scene is an assembly room, bare except for sacred chromos, potted plants, and small desks. It is the school of the Shrine Church of Saint Thérèse of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus, the Little Flower, in Royal Oak, Michigan. Nominally a parochial school, it is the Reverend Charles Edward Coughlin’s first ‘anti-Communistic school.’
Several hundred boys and girls, of ages varying from eleven to fourteen, file in from play, shuffle into crowded rows, and respectfully eye the priest who faces them. Father Coughlin, stoutish, his round youthful face unseamed, regards the rows of adolescents challengingly. He utters a word of command and four hundred arms shoot out horizontally. Two hundred childish crosses stand awkwardly at attention. His own arms held at an angle of ninety degrees, the famous pastor leads his innocents in a vow.
The mellow organ familiar to millions of radio listeners swells militantly above the treble of the children. Shrilly they pledge themselves to hate Communism, but to love Communists as ’Christ loved His executioners on the cross.’ They frown, striving to look as fierce as the words sound. They gather intensity for the final resounding crash of will: ‘I pledge myself to do all in my power to destroy Communism. If necessary, I will surrender my life . . . rather than obey the dictates of Karl Marx and those who hate our country and our Church.’ The children drop their arms, and the daily demonstration against the ‘red flag’ is at an end.
Is this disquieting tableau perhaps a bit of political strategy? The Presidential campaign of 1936 is at hand and a mass leader must prepare his rôle. Father Coughlin launches his Youth Movement, hoping to introduce the anti-red oath into parish schools everywhere. A new ‘ red hunt ’ may be in the making at Royal Oak; one recalls that a campaign on Soviet Russia and American Marxists, pacifists, pinks, and political liberals served to extend his audience and fame in 1930.
This winter he resumes the Sunday afternoon broadcasts over thirty stations, two more than he used last spring. He renews the epithetical feud with international bankers and selected industrialists, to say nothing of ‘outworn capitalism.’ He enjoys a breakfast at Hyde Park. He organizes a dubious union of automotive workers, in competition with the American Federation of Labor — a union which, bound to peaceful association with the employers, surrenders in advance its right to strike. He stoutly repudiates reports that he intends to extinguish the National Union for Social Justice, his vast, inchoate lobby.
Where will Father Coughlin stand in 1936? He refrains from public commitment for or against Roosevelt, for or against the Republicans or a new party. Does his voice, rising from the Michigan prairie, still carry weight with millions of spellbound voters? Has he a balance of power in ordinarily doubtful states — for example, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Illinois? Must he be reckoned with by candidates — cajoled as the Roosevelt Administration has flattered, favored, and used him? With Huey Long’s demise the influence of the politicianpriest now presents the most fascinating enigma of the gathering campaign.
The answers to those immediately practical questions would be entertaining, perhaps useful, but what of the long-range influence of this ecclesiastical phenomenon? In his relatively brief span as a political leader, he has been called by various names. H. G. Wells found him a ‘raucous voice’ with a ‘method of empty poverty.’ Dr. Butler dubs him a ‘ boisterous foe of the general welfare.’ The Augustan Cardinal Archbishop of Boston has branded him a ‘hysterical demagogue.’ Assorted rabbis decry him as anti-Semitic. He is, by turns, a Peter the Hermit, a Savonarola, a Talleyrand; radical, Fascist, an agrarian agitator, a presentday Populist. With reckless joy Hugh Johnson rated him a Pied Piper as well as a ‘political termite.’
The rough, factual outline of Father Coughlin’s career is a success story, widely familiar. Born of working-class parents of Irish blood in Hamilton, Ontario, he sprang into world-wide notice by means of his old-fashioned oratory, his unbounded self-assurance, and his novel manipulation of the radio. It is common knowledge that his American-born father was sexton of a Catholic cathedral; that his greatgrandfather helped pick-and-shovel the Erie Canal; that in school he was called ‘Chuck,’ played a hard game of ‘rugger,’ and in 1911 took his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto at the age of twenty. The resourceful young priest’s early struggles in the missionary parish of Royal Oak, where he was settled in 1926, his naïve determination to make use of expensive radio time to increase his congregations — these, too, are part of the Coughlin legend.
Father Coughlin’s mail is greater in volume than that of any other American individual or institution; he speaks familiarly with Presidents and Senators, he wields an indefinable power. Making the radio technique peculiarly his own, he added a new dimension to political leadership. Coughlin’s oratorical equipment was sound. He had been trained in an old school; his method was dogmatic affirmation. He lashed the objects of his aversion with whips of thongs, his rounded tenor voice rising and falling into the microphone. He despised the balanced, objective statement. Now reverential, now raging with a righteous fury, he buttressed his assertions by quotations from the Bible, from the Fathers, holy doctors, and Popes, from documents, records, and the press. Above all, he named names, and when he had finished, the enemy lay all about, whether Bolshevik, prohibitionist, birth-control advocate, international banker, pacifist, or General Johnson. He justified personalities on the ground that he but imitated the Fathers, who, in extirpating heresy, invariably made the heretic as uncomfortable as possible. He cited Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Saint Athanasius, recalling that, not content with denouncing the Nestorian and Arian vagaries, they saw to it that Nestorius and Arius personally were visited with the scorn of true believers.
The style of what he called his discourses was illiberal, intemperate, florid. He had a talent for crudely poetic hyperbole. In January 1930, he first tasted the sweets of political controversy in a series of discourses aimed at the ‘red menace.’ He entitled his opening sermon ‘Christ or the Red Fog,’ initiating the calamity phrases which he has made familiar: ‘Christ or Chaos,’ ‘Roosevelt or Ruin,’ and even, in a moment of exasperation with the AAA, ‘Christ or Tugwell.’ His text dealt with abolition by the Kremlin of holly and mistletoe as furbishings for the Soviet Christmas. His remarks provoked the wrath of many letter writers. He returned to the attack the following Sunday, linking divorce with Bolshevism and depicting the horrors of free love, a practice which he associated exclusively with Socialists.
‘Christian parents,’ he inquired, ‘do you want your daughter to be the breeder of some lustful person’s desires, and, when the rose of her youth has withered, to be thrown upon the highways of Socialism? Do you want atheism in her home and in her heart? Choose to-day! It is either Christ or the Red Fog of Communism. It is either the marriage feast of Cana or the brothel of Lenin.’
That was a sample of the young leader’s persuasiveness in 1930.
Father Coughlin was born in 1891. Although the coincidence is no doubt irrelevant, in that year Pope Leo XIII replied to the challenge of Marx. In a notable encyclical, the Holy Father bade such of the Catholic laboring classes as had been seduced by Marxism to return to their mother, the Church. His declaration, on the other hand, admonished the employing classes that labor was not a chattel, that the worker possessed human dignity, that wealth was merely a stewardship, and that the Church expected capital and labor to collaborate peaceably to the greater glory of God.
Pope Leo’s labor encyclical was but one of the shafts which that vigorous pontiff hurled at the enemies of Peter. In the late nineteenth century Rome had set itself sternly against Marxism, Modernism, and Liberalism. The postulates of Marx were weaning large sections of the Catholic workers from the Faith. Modernist skeptics reflected the unsettlement in the non-Catholic world induced by Darwin and Huxley. Politico-economic liberalism, the laissez-faire Manchester school of rugged individualism, never accorded completely with the Church’s mind and conscience.
The labor encyclical stirred intellectual eddies throughout Catholic Europe. Penetrating the universities and seminaries, the Leonine concept of a reorganized modern state with a strong theocratic bias, devoid alike of Marxist and Liberal, created a political ferment. Seminary students, preparing to work in the industrial cities, seized on the encyclical as a weapon with which to beat off scientific Socialism. At Innsbruck, in the Austrian Tirol, no student of the Jesuits pondered the utterance more deeply than Michael James Gallagher, an American. The encyclical, as he confessed many years later, conditioned his whole life as a priest and bishop.
In Europe the encyclical was translated into action. A Catholic labor movement grew up in various parts of the Continent. Catholics entered politics as a party, to oppose the freethinking Liberals and the Social Democrats, and after the World War these clerical parties of the centre became decisive elements in the defeated Central Powers. The Church in America inspired no sustained labor movement, nor did it, as a minority, care to introduce a clerical faction into the twoparty system. Here the encyclical remained an echo in the minds of socially conscious clerics and a topic of academic discussion in the seminaries.
As priest and bishop, Michael James Gallagher retained his associations with the Tirol, with Austria and Hungary. Revisiting the country yearly, he maintained friendships, many in high place. After the war, he mourned over the disintegration of the Hapsburg empire. He contemplated the red régime of Bela Kun in Hungary with horror and applauded the counterrevolution of Admiral Horthy. Although the Regent is a Calvinist, they became fast friends and the bishop was a frequent guest at Horthy’s palace in Budapest. In post-war Austria, the American prelate’s friends were predominantly Monarchists and clericals. When Monsignor Gallagher became Bishop of Detroit in 1918, he was sufficiently familiar with the political success of the Austrian clericals. The priest-statesman Seipel, who ruled postwar Austria, inspired the formation of the Heimwehr, a private army of the royalists, landowning aristocrats, heavy industrialists, and the Church, to counteract the new Republic’s parliament. Seipel was succeeded by Dollfuss, a fervent clerical, who in 1933 seized dictatorial power and promulgated a new constitution which, he proclaimed, had been outlined by God!
Bishop Gallagher enjoyed Dollfuss’s friendship, being a welcome caller at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna. There he might easily notice the savagery vented by the dictatorship on the virtually disarmed Social Democrats of Vienna. He might also have seen that Dollfuss ruled without the advice of even Catholic labor groups and that his régime practised a subtle anti-Semitism. When the Little Chancellor was murdered in August 1934, Bishop Gallagher followed him to his grave. In Austria, the American had seen two Fascisms existing side by side — the Heimwehr of Prince von Starhemberg and the clerical dictatorship of Dollfuss. Bishop Gallagher’s associations are with the clerical or Christian Fascists, who claim to rule by the principles of Leo XIII and Pius XI.
Pope Pius’s social encyclical, supplementing and extending the pronouncements of Leo XIII, came thundering from the Vatican in May 1931. It too condemned Peter’s familiar enemies, Marxism and Liberalism. Pope Pius trained his criticism upon unrestrained capitalistic enterprise, the rugged individualism of American idiom; he outlined as his formula for a regenerated society a state scarcely distinguishable from the syndicalism of Mussolini’s corporative pattern. ‘Now this,’ wrote His Holiness, ‘is the primary duty of the state and of all good citizens; to abolish conflict between classes. . . . Little reflection is required to perceive the advantage of the institution thus summarily described; peaceful collaboration of the classes, repression of Socialist organizations and efforts, the moderating influence of a special ministry.’
Strikes and lockouts, as in Italy, Germany, and Austria, would be unnecessary with the state supreme. The Pope took note of objections from Liberals that the corporative state possesses an ‘excessively bureaucratic and political character.’ However, for the ‘initiation of a better social order’ he relied on the ‘coöperation of all men of good will.’
Specifically, he scored free capitalism: ‘Immense power and despotic economic domination are concentrated in the hands of a few . . . frequently not the owners, but only the trustees and directors of invested funds. . . . This power becomes particularly irresistible when exercised by those who, because they hold and control money, are able also to govern credit and determine its allotment, for that reason supplying, so to speak, the lifeblood to the entire economic body and grasping, as it were, in their hands the very soul of production, so that none dare breathe against their will. This accumulation of power, the characteristic note of the modern economic order, is a natural result of limitless free competition which permits the survival of only those who are the strongest, which often means those who fight most relentlessly, who pay least heed to the dictates of conscience.’
Economic interests dominate and corrupt the state, and ‘ the state,’ so affirmed the Holy Father, ‘which should be the supreme arbiter, ruling in kingly fashion far above all party contention, intent only upon justice and the common good, has become instead a slave, bound over to the service of human passion and greed.’ For those evils he prescribed a rigidly controlled state which might avoid the ‘dangers of individualism and collectivism. Free competition, and still more economic domination, must be kept within just and definite limits, and must be brought under the effective control of the public authority.’
The encyclical called for a ‘just’ wage, the principle of stewardship, public ownership of such property as carries with it ‘an opportunity of domination too great to be left to private individuals without injury to the community at large.’ It was silent on the means of enforcing the ‘just’ wage, stewardship, and public ownership. Communism and Communists, ‘cruel and inhuman’ monsters, were sternly dealt with as enemies of society. ‘Evidence for this,’ said Pope Pius, ‘is the ghastly destruction and ruin with which they have laid waste immense tracts of Eastern Europe and Asia, while their antagonism and open hostility to Holy Church and to God Himself are, alas! but too well known and proved by their deeds.’
Bishop Gallagher received Pope Pius’s social reasoning with delight. He characterized the Pontiff as ‘a leader who feared a revolution unless the malpractices of capitalism were immediately rectified.’ Dollfuss, as we have seen, clasped the encyclical to his bosom; Mussolini could find no fault with it. In the main, it was sound Fascist, as well as Catholic, doctrine.
The Tower of the Crucifixion, which rears its yellow rococo bulk one hundred and eleven feet above the shrine and the prairie at Royal Oak, wears an image of Bishop Gallagher on the front elevation. Following the mediæval whim of church builders in substituting the features of contemporaries for those of apostles and saints, the bishop peers out over Woodward Avenue in carved limestone as the Archangel Michael. It is a mellowed, kindly face with humorous lips and shrewd eyes — a countenance in the best traditions of the Roman prelacy. For the bishop is charitable and forthright. During the depression he hypothecated his life insurance to give more abundantly to the poor. With fervor he led the fight among American bishops for a free Ireland, inviting De Valera to speak in his see city when to do so seemed offensive to Great Britain.
Bishop Gallagher’s image on the tower is tangible. Another, intangible image exists in the minds of many. It is that of an aging and indulgent bishop who passively supports the broadcast ministry of an audacious, gifted young pastor. In this visualization of the relations of priest and ordinary, Father Coughlin stands out as boldly as his tower, with the bishop in the shadows, useful because of his power to protect his subordinate, but otherwise secondary. This picture scarcely does justice to the strength of Bishop Gallagher. He is no man’s shadow. And, since we lack positive information either way, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the bishop, zealous for the Catholic truth of Leo XIII and Pius XI, sympathetically observant of the Church in action abroad, is himself directly responsible for the social doctrine preached from that continent-wide pulpit. It might not be excessive to suspect that, whereas the voice of social justice is the voice of Father Coughlin, the inspiration is that of Bishop Gallagher. The bishop, older, wiser, and subtler than the priest, never has withheld sanction from Coughlin. Indeed, in June 1933, when powerful interests were attacking the radio preacher on his currency attitude, the Bishop issued a blanket and retroactive endorsement, saying, ’I made no mistake and have never doubted my judgment in putting him before the microphone.’
Father Coughlin’s social broadcasts antedated the reaffirmations of Pope Pius. In the fall of 1930, having opposed birth control, pacifism, prohibition, and Communism, he advanced tentatively into economics. He was quick to observe technological unemployment, and, quoting Pope Leo on the ‘enslavement’ of the masses by the ’very rich,’ attacked the concentration of wealth in America. At that time he formed an intellectual alliance with Representative Louis McFadden, of Pennsylvania, a Jew-baiter and, for a not wholly clear reason, an enemy of the international bankers and the settlements arranged at Versailles. As an indirect result of the McFadden association, the priest was subjected to his first public test. The Columbia broadcasting chain, alarmed at the vigor of the priest’s attacks on the bankers, urged moderation. He carried the case to his listeners and won. The Columbia offices in New York were swamped with telegrams and letters of protest after Father Coughlin announced that he had been ‘gagged.’ His biographer, Louis B. Ward, terms the incident the ‘turning point in his career.’ This was in January 1931. That fall, both major broadcasting syndicates having shown themselves to be inhospitable, Coughlin organized his own chain.
Throughout the winter of 1931-1932, Father Coughlin pursued the social gospel, but in the fall of 1932 he diverged, or so it seemed, to espouse currency reform. Plunging into the so-called inflation fight, he advocated revaluation of the dollar downward, issuance of currency against the resultant profit, cash payment of the bonus, immediate redemption of wartime bonds, and elimination of tax exempts. He demanded an ‘honest dollar,’ with which the producing West might pay its score with the creditor East. He sought the monetization of silver. Emphatically the priest urged the state to recapture its prerogative of issuing currency and to take ownership of the flow of credit by nationalizing the Federal Reserve System.
The influence and audience of the political pastor increased throughout 1933 and 1934. Attaching himself to the New Deal, he magnified it into ‘Christ’s deal.’ It was in this period that he discovered the President to be ‘twenty years ahead’ of sociological thought in this country. He assured a House committee that ‘God Almighty’ was preserving Roosevelt from mistakes.
Father Coughlin led the successful fight for revaluation of the dollar, and in the course of it descended to New York publicly to castigate Alfred E. Smith, who appeared to be wedded to the ‘despotic economic domination’ of the money masters. Smith paid for his obstinacy in the coin of public disfavor. His fellow New Yorkers booed his name. The priest’s tide was at its full, his strength unmeasured and hence impressive, his sway over governmental policies considerable.
Coughlin is restless, overflowing with energy. In November 1934, he committed himself to a new adventure. On Armistice Day he announced a bid for leadership of a mass movement, the National Union for Social Justice. The title was ambitious, the scope no less. It is not certain whether the example of clerical parties in Europe, based on the teachings of the Popes, inspired his act. Nor is it apparent that he knew what limits to set to the movement when, in the November eleventh discourse, he challenged the ‘Herods of high finance’ as well as the Marxists, bidding his congregation to accept a ‘new call to arms,’ adjuring his faithful following ‘not to become cannon fodder for the greedy system of an outworn capitalism, nor factory fodder for the slave whip of Communism.’
In his address, he failed to limit the Union’s function. A week later he replied to critics by a denial that it would be a ’new political party,’any more, he added, than the Steel Trust, the United States Chamber of Commerce, or the other powerful lobbies in Washington. Proudly he predicted that the Union would have to be ‘ reckoned with by every Senator, every Congressman, and every President whom we elect to legislate and execute the laws of this country.’ Father Coughlin, in his political aspect, never errs on the side of humility.
Conscious as he is of the Church’s inhibitions against separate political action in America, aware of the difficulties of third-party movements, it seems incredible that he ever conceived of such a venture. Yet, as memberships poured in from hundreds of mailbags that winter at Royal Oak, he obviously began to toy with the possibility of another type of political organization — a tightly knit, nonpartisan bloc which might be deployed against offending candidates in the timehonored fashion of the American Federation of Labor, the Anti-Saloon League, and similar pressure groups. Early in 1935, he announced his intention to organize the National Union by states, by Congressional districts, even by townships and wards. He scheduled twelve ‘conventions’ in populous Northern and Middle Western states. The first took place in Detroit in February. Up to the day of the convention, his office gave assurances that Michigan would be organized on that occasion with a host of minority groups, — labor, housewives, students, farmers, small merchants, — formed along vocational lines, in Pope Pius’s pattern, coöperating to go through the formality of electing officers and opening headquarters. Something went awry that day. Without explanation, the organizational project was abandoned. Whatever happened, whether a potent hint or genuine pressure from high authority, representatives of the groups were told that organization had been deferred for two weeks. It never was consummated. Moreover, until this is written the National Union has not been made organic. It remains a paper organization, with an aggregate of nondues-paying members estimated at anywhere from two to nine millions. It remains a lobby — not a potential party or a bloc, but a tremendously effective lobby, as was amply demonstrated by the flood of telegrams to Congress when the World Court and bonus measures were under discussion.
The National Union possesses a platform, a generalized statement of sixteen principles, which, rumor has it, were improvised from the encyclicals and the currency proposals in the space of one all-night session. On November 11, they were proclaimed from the Tower by radio. In gist, they are as follows: —
1. Liberty of conscience, education, and choice of vocation.
2. A ‘just and living wage,’ commensurate with American standards of decency, for all citizens willing to work.
3. Nationalization of banking credit and currency, power, light, oil, and natural gas, and ‘our God-given natural resources.’
4. Private ownership of all other property.
5. Control of privately owned property for the public good.
6. Substitution of a government-owned central bank for the banker-owned Federal Reserve system.
7. Return of the right to coin and regulate the value of money from the ’hands of private owners ’ to Congress.
8. Management of the currency’s value in terms of commodities and debts by the central bank.
9. Cost of production plus a ’fair profit’ for farm producers.
10. Government protection of the labor unions against the ‘vested interests of wealth and of intellect.’
11. Recall of all ‘nonproductive’ bonds.
12. Abolition of tax-exempt bonds.
13. A broader base for taxation, ‘founded upon the ownership of wealth and capacity to pay.’
14. Simplification of government, relieving the ‘slender revenues of the laboring class’ of ‘crushing taxation.’
15. Conscription of wealth, as well as of men, in wartime.
16. Vindication of human above property rights, with the government showing ‘ chief concern ’ for the poor because, ‘ as it is witnessed, the rich have ample means of their own to care for themselves.’
The platform, as may be observed, is primarily a statement of desirable objectives. Many of the planks are either vague to the point of inexplicitness or merely express pious sentiments— for example, numbers 1, 2, 5, 14, 15, and 16. As a formula for political action, the platform comes nearest to effectiveness in the currency, monetary, and credit items. Here Father Coughlin was realistic; here he expressed the historic Western demand for a change in status between debtor and creditor. He wishes, specifically, a managed currency in the interest of the debtor, easy and politically controlled credit in behalf of the Western producer, and destruction to the vested interest of the banks in issuing money and to the rentier class who escape taxes through tax-exempt bonds.
Apart from the Populistic definitions, the platform leans on the encyclicals. Nine of the planks stem from those sources. Others, such as the demands for a state-owned central bank and state-issued currency, partake of the spirit of the encyclicals. In the sections derived from Papal utterances the platform manifests its Fascist tendency, showing hostility alike to rugged individualism and collectivism. From the encyclicals, Father Coughlin took the planks calling for liberty of conscience and education, the just wage, nationalization of certain classes of property, assertions of a dual nature of private property, government control of labor unions, taxation relief, and the generalization about human rights. It is significant that the first plank omits reference to liberty of speech, press, and assemblage. Those are ‘ liberal ’ privileges, regarded with reserve, if not downright disfavor.
The language of the labor proviso is explicable only by reference to Pope Pius’s prescription of the corporative state; for ‘vested interests ... of intellect’ read any labor movement not controlled by the priest as in the Detroit automotive situation. Father Coughlin proposes that the state provide a ‘just’ wage, take over banking, exercise control over the function of privately owned property, manage the currency, regiment labor into government guilds, and guarantee the farmer a fair profit. He has frequently elsewhere stated his broad objectives in the form of a synthesis: ‘production for use at a profit,’ combining the incentives of free capitalist and Marxist. He stands for a reorganization of the economic order, and his formula, resembling Socialism almost as little as it does traditional capitalism, might, without violence, be described as an approach to the phenomenon known in Europe as Fascism — the nearest approach, it may fairly be said, yet made in America.
In an attempt to orient his political philosophy, the priest recently explained that he and his followers ‘reject atheistic Communism. We disavow racial Hitlerism; we turn our backs upon industrial Fascism. We have no part with plutocratic individualism and less with immoral capitalism as we find it in the United States to-day.’ The sweeping nature of his repudiations left scarcely any category into which the National Union might be fitted. He omitted, however, to reject Christian, or clerical, Fascism as we have seen it, typically, in Austria. If the omission was intentional, it indicates that Father Coughlin has been able to relate his movement to the most nearly comparable politico-economic sect in Europe’s post-war assortment.
Personally the Royal Oak priest is magnetic. He has bounce, sweep, and ambition. Living strenuously, fed by the adulation of millions and the sensual sound of his own rough-hewn metaphors, Father Coughlin seldom mistrusts the quality of his leadership or the accuracy of his interpretations. He can scarcely escape the thought that everywhere east of the Rockies bewildered little people, hurt by economic maladjustments, look to him for a silver-tongued expression of their resentments and hope. He has a hold on a certain section of the mass mind, and no mistake. Whether the grasp is weakening no one may say definitely.
The enemies of his continued leadership would appear to be a European or a world war and/or marked business recovery. Given the emotional distractions and prosperity of a large-scale war in which we are not engaged, or given prosperity from another cause, and Father Coughlin, whose prophetic rôle has been based on economic calamity, may prove to be a voice crying in the wilderness. One thing seems certain: if business recovery is at hand, currency inflation is a dead issue. Money reform is an ephemeral product of depressions. It is useless to speculate on whether he could find a new tangent. He assuredly would make the effort. No man willingly surrenders such wide power; and Father Coughlin thoroughly enjoys authority and its soothing perquisites.
A leader is compelled to whip up his following by new incitements to mass desire and action whenever the old hopes grow dim. Where will Father Coughlin turn if currency reforms and the feud with the bankers fail him? At a guess, based on his conduct during the autumn of 1935, I would suggest that he will renew his drive on Marxists, shading over into the pacifists and concentrating heavily on the parochial schools; that he will advocate preparedness against a world war; and that he will convert his wish to distribute well-being into espousal of Major C. H. Douglas’s Social Credit movement. The fight on Communists is safe, it is susceptible of melodramatic treatment on the air, and it has the added virtue of repairing the priest’s standing with the timid prelates, clergy, and laymen of his own faith. Although Rome reputedly smiles on its voluble son, so effective in his Michigan outpost, Father Coughlin himself regrets the breaches he has torn in the fabric of American Catholicism. A lusty thwacking of the Communists might bring reconciliation with Cardinal O’Connell and Al Smith. Signs are not lacking that Father Coughlin’s two-year-old flirtation with Social Credit may be ripening into a union of true souls. Social Credit, with its painless panacea for making the poor rich, the rich richer, attracts the clergy. Within a few weeks recently, Father Coughlin received and ‘ blessed ’ the new Social Credit Prime Minister of Alberta (a former itinerant evangelist) and the Anglican Dean of Canterbury. The priest and the Dean, here on a Social Credit mission, united in a statement implicitly approving the Douglas programme.
We may expect more encomia for the New Deal. On the whole, Coughlin has supported Roosevelt. The alliance has been uncertain, spotty, and punctuated with occasional diatribes. It neared an open break in April 1934, when, at the height of his crusade for silver remonetization and currency expansion, Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau made public the result of his silver speculation inquiry. The Treasury Department list of silver purchasers showed Father Coughlin to hold, under the name of ‘A. Collins, Royal Oak, Mich.,’ the largest block of silver futures in Michigan — 500,000 ounces. Nettled, he explained that the silver was in reality owned by the Radio League of the Little Flower and held in the name of the League’s secretarytreasurer, Miss Amy Collins. Miss Collins is one of Father Coughlin’s four secretaries. Her duty it is to care for the financial side of the broadcasts, to receive, account for, and expend the vast flood of dollar bills and coins which flow into the Shrine. Her duty is no light one; the cost of radio time, printing, postage, clerical help, and incidentals mounts to a staggering weekly total that has been estimated as high as $25,000. Presumably this money all comes from free-will contributions through the mails. Temporary surpluses have, from time to time, been invested in commodities or securities.
Father Coughlin retorted with characteristic vehemence. ‘This silver investigation smells to high heaven in so far as it is a dead [correct] herring smeared across the path of monetary reform,’ he observed. ‘It definitely places Mr. Morgenthau on the side of the international gold bankers to whom the word “silver” is anathema.’ More of the same, including what was interpreted as a sideswipe at the Secretary’s race — a description of the white metal as ‘gentile silver.’ But the volatile priest’s annoyance with the New Deal did not survive a week, or a fortnight at most. Presently he was uttering fresh endorsements of the New Deal.
Politically, I hazard the prediction that Father Coughlin will be found in 1936 marching down the middle of the road with Candidate Roosevelt, assuming the President’s renomination. However unstable he may be in political utterance and his attitudes on matters not delineated and specified in the Church’s doctrines, he never consciously strays from the two encyclicals. Roosevelt represents, in his tentative statism, the nearest approximation by any paramount political leader to the ideals of Leo XIII and Pius XI. Coughlin cannot go to the left of Roosevelt. He has no stomach for a genuine Labor party, nor for political liberalism or the rugged individualism almost certain to be professed by the Republicans. The Rooseveltian yoke may sometimes feel like a hair shirt, but the founder of the National Union for Social Justice has never been able to throw it off.
Over the longer range, the future of Father Coughlin’s clerical Fascism must be bound up in the general prospects of that form of political subjugation known as Fascism. In the by no means impossible event that Democracy and Capitalism break down, he is likely to have a share in shaping a succeeding order. His is the most incisively Fascist voice in America.