Charles Edward Coughlin

Charles Edward Coughlin

Charles Edward Coughlin, the son of third generation Irish immigrants, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on 25th October, 1891. After graduating from St. Michael's College in Toronto, he studied for the priesthood at St. Basil's Seminary and was ordained in 1916.

During his training Coughlin was deeply influenced by the encyclical On the Condition of the Working Class, published by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. In this document the Pope called for far-reaching reforms to create a more just society in order to counter the growing support for Socialism in the world.

After assisting in several parishes in the Detroit area, Coughlin was assigned to the new Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oak, Michigan in 1926. At the time the parish only had 25 families, but Coughlin was such a popular preacher he was later able to build a church to hold 600 people.

On 3rd October 1926 he started a weekly broadcast over the local radio station. Initially, the broadcast was intended for children but it gradually changed to adult topics and Coughlin began expressing his views on the need for social reform. The Ku Klux Klan, upset by his views, arranged for a blazing cross planted on the lawn. However, he was very popular with most people and within four years CBS was broadcasting Coughlin's radio programme throughout the nation.

Coughlin was highly critical of the government in the Soviet Union. He argued that the communist government had made divorce very easy and claimed these anti-family ideas were spreading to the United States. Coughlin called this process the "Bolshevism of America". He pointed out that more than two million men and women had obtained divorces in the last ten years and people had therefore "scorned the basic family and national doctrine of Jesus Christ."

Coughlin warned of the dangers of "socialism, communism, and kindred fallacious social and economic theories". Like Pope Leo XIII, Coughlin believed the best way of combating the appeal of these ideologies was the introduction of reforms that would make America a more equal society. This included industrialists paying their workers a "just and living wage" and "providing old age compensation insurance." He also denounced the greed and corruption of America's industrialists and warned about the dangers of the "concentration of wealth in the hands of the few."

Coughlin developed a reputation for being an expert on the growth of the Communist Party in the United States and in July 1930, Hamilton Fish invited him to appear before the House of Representatives Committee to Investigate Communist Activities. Coughlin took the opportunity to criticize left-wing groups in America but he shocked the Committee by also attacking leading industrialists such as Henry Ford.

At this time Coughlin began to criticize the government of President Herbert Hoover. CBS, concerned by this development, warned him to "tone down" his broadcasts. When Coughlin refused, CBS decided not to renew his contract when it expired in April 1931. Coughlin responded by organizing his own radio network which eventually grew to over 30 stations.

During the 1932 presidential election, Coughlin advocated that his listeners should vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the election Coughlin gave his support to Roosevelt's New Deal. He continued with his radio broadcasts where he advocated the nationalization of gold and the revaluation of the dollar. Coughlin continued to be extremely popular and the first edition of his complete radio discourses, published in 1933, quickly sold over a million copies.

In 1935 Coughlin started a campaign to restructure the Federal Reserve System and urged Roosevelt to take full government control over the nation's banking system and to establish a Central Bank. Coughlin also became involved in trade unions. He established the Automotive Industrial Workers Association (AIWA) in Detroit in direct competition with the more radical United Auto Workers. Coughlin also joined Huey Long in the campaign to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support the paying of the Bonus Bill, a large sum of money owed to the American veterans of the First World War.

Coughlin gradually grew disillusioned with Roosevelt and on 11th November, 1934, he announced the formation of the National Union of Social Justice. At this time some observers claimed that Father Coughlin was the second most important political figure in the United States. It was estimated that Coughlin's radio broadcasts were getting an audience of 30 million people. He was also having to employ twenty-six secretaries to deal with the 400,000 letters a week he was receiving from his listeners.

According to Wallace Stegner "Father Coughlin had a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm, that anyone tuning past it on the radio dial almost automatically returned to hear it again." As well as his radio broadcasts, Coughlin also began publishing Social Justice Weekly, a journal which soon achieved a circulation of over one million copies.

In May 1935 Coughlin began having talks with Huey Long, Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith, Milo Reno and Floyd B. Olson about a joint campaign to take on President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential elections. Long was expected to the candidate but he was assassinated on 8th September, 1935.

After the death of Long, Joseph Kennedy attempted to reconcile Father Coughlin and Roosevelt. The conference in September 1935 was a failure and the following year Coughlin joined with Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith and followers of the late Huey Long to take on Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. The National Union of Social Justice selected William Lepke from North Dakota, as the party's candidate, but he won only 882,479 votes compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt (27,751,597) and Alfred Landon (16,679,583).

After this defeat Coughlin's replaced the National Union of Social Justice with the Christian Front and concentrated on the dangers of communism. Coughlin also became an isolationist and one of his campaign slogans was: "Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity."

In the late 1930s Coughlin moved sharply to the right and accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of "leaning toward international socialism or sovietism". He also praised the actions of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the fight against communism in Europe. On 20th November 1938, Coughlin defended the activities of the Nazi Government as a necessary defence against the Soviet Union.

Arthur Miller wrote: "Father Charles E. Coughlin, who by 1940 was confiding to his ten million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that twenty years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution... He was arguing... that Hitlerism was the German nation's innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against 'bad Jews', especially those born outside Germany."

Like Joseph Goebbels, Coughlin claimed that Marxist atheism in Europe was a Jewish plot. Coughlin also attacked the influence of Jews in America and this resulted in him being described as a fascist. In April 1941, Coughlin endorsed the America First Committee. However, his now open Anti-Semitism made this endorsement a mixed blessing for the organization.

In January 1940 the FBI raided the New York branch of the Christian Front and uncovered a cache of weapons. J. Edgar Hoover claimed that his officers had discovered that members of the organization planned to murder Jews, Communists and "a dozen Congressmen." Although Coughlin was not directly involved in this plot, the publicity it generated severely damaged his reputation.

Coughlin's opinions became more extreme. In September 1940 he described President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "the world's chief war-monger". The following year he wrote in Social Justice: "Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so- called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination."

When the United States entered the Second World War the National Association of Broadcasters arranged for Coughlin radio broadcasts to be brought to an end. The Post Office also banned his weekly newspaper, Social Justice, from the mail. On 1st May 1942, Archbishop Francis Mooney ordered Coughlin to bring an end to his political activities. He was warned that if he refused he would be defrocked.

Charles Edward Coughlin retired from the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in 1966. He continued to write pamphlets denouncing Communism until his death on 27th October, 1979.

Primary Sources

(1) Charles Coughlin, radio broadcast (October, 1930)

According to the New York Times of October 1st, 1930, these dividends for the first nine months of 1930 amounted to $3,621,000,000 as compared with $2,395,000,000 during the same nine months of 1929.

In the great year of prosperity, 1929, industries upon which forty per cent of our wage earners depend for a living actually employed 900,000 fewer wage earners than they did in the meager year of 1919 although the business handled was far greater. In manufacturing, our factories fabricated forty-two per cent more products with 546,000 fewer wage earners, our railroads increased their business by seven per cent with 253,000 fewer employees.

(2) Charles Coughlin, Radio Discourses: 1931-32 (1933)

I remember that on March 7, 1930, more than one year and a half ago, the former Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Hoover, announced: "All evidences indicate that the worst effect of the crash of unemployment will have passed within the next sixty days." That was in the spring of 1930. I recollect that he and hundreds of others to whom 10,000 facts were well-known were busy preaching to us that prosperity was just around the corner. It appears to have been a circular corner to which they referred; a corner which if we could turn, we would not be willing to negotiate if it fore-shadows a repetition of these recent occurrences for the children of generations to come.

(3) Charles Coughlin, radio broadcast (17th January, 1934)

President Roosevelt is not going to make a mistake, for God Almighty is guiding him. President Roosevelt has leadership, he has followers and he is the answer to many prayers that were sent up last year.

If Congress fails to carry through with the President's suggestions, I foresee a revolution far greater than the French Revolution. It is either Roosevelt or Ruin.

(4) Charles Coughlin explained to John M. Carlisle how he prepared his radio sermons. The article was published in the New York Times Magazine on 29th October, 1933.

I write the discourse, first in my own language, the language of a cleric. Then I rewrite it, using metaphors the public can grasp, toning the phrases down to the language of the man-in-the-street. Radio broadcasting, I have found, must not be high hat. It must be human, intensely human. It must be simple.

(5) Wallace Stegner, The Radio Priest and His Flock (1949)

Father Coughlin had a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heartwarming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm, that anyone tuning past it on the radio dial almost automatically returned to hear it again. It was without doubt one of the great speaking voices of the twentieth century. It was a voice made for promises.

(6) John O'Connor, speech in Congress (18th February, 1936)

Every decent Catholic in America has been ashamed of him since he came to this country. There isn't a clergyman of the Catholic Church except one (Bishop Gallagher of Detroit) that I know of who has approved of his desecration of the cloth by his intrusion into politics.

I personally never heard a Catholic priest talk politics from the pulpit. In the old days of prohibition and the KKK the cry of many of us to Bishop Cannon was "Back to the pulpit. Stay where you belong."

Just because Father Coughlin is an egomaniac he thinks he can run the government. He stepped into the bonus and world court issues, but had as much to do with Congressional action on them as any elevator operator in the Capital.

(7) Charles Edward Coughlin, Principles of the National Union of Social Justice (1936)

Establishing my principles upon upon this preamble, namely, that we are all creatures of a beneficent God, made to love and serve Him in this world and to enjoy Him forever in the next; and that all this world's wealth of field and forest, of mine and river has been bestowed upon us by a kind Father, therefore, I believe that wealth as we know it originates from the natural resources and from the labor which the sons 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.

With this as a preamble, then, these following shall be the principles of social justice towards whose realization we must strive.

1. I believe in the right of 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.

2.1 believe that every citizen willing to work and capable of working shall receive a just and living annual wage which will enable him to maintain and educate his family according to the standards of American decency.

3. I believe in nationalizing those public necessities which by their very nature are too important to be held in the control of private individuals. By these I mean banking, credit and currency, power, light, oil and natural gas and our God-given natural resources.

4. I believe in private ownership of all other property.

5. I believe in upholding the right to private property yet in controlling it for the public good.

6. I believe in the abolition of the privately owned Federal Reserve Banking system and in the establishment of a Government owned Central Bank.

7. 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.

8. 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 the repayment of dollar debts with equal value dollars.

9. I believe in the cost of production plus a fair profit for the farmer.

10. 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 facilitate and to protect these organizations against the vested interests of wealth and of intellect.

11 . I believe in the recall of all non-productive bonds and thereby in the alleviation of taxation.

12. I believe in the abolition of tax-exempt bonds.

13. I believe in the broadening of the base of taxation founded upon the ownership of wealth and the capacity to pay.

14. I believe in the simplification of government, and the further lifting of crushing taxation from the slender revenues of the laboring class.

15. 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.

16. I believe in preferring the sanctity of human rights to the sanctity of property rights. I believe that 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 accept my beliefs; to follow me or repudiate me.

(8) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (5th April, 1937)

To learn social justice; to organize against sit-down legislatures and Congressmen; to battle Communism, Fascism and anti-Christianity wherever and whenever it is possible; to cure democracy before it withers and perishes; to protect our Supreme Court; to oppose the evils of modern capitalism without joining in the excesses of radical labor organizers and to secure an honest dollar and an honest living for all Americans.

(9) Charles Coughlin, radio broadcast (11th April, 1938)

America will soon taste the bitter tears of a worse depression than 1929. You will live to see your meager pocketbooks fail to meet the costs of foodstuffs.

You will live to see before next April a depression setting in, in this country, that will make Mr. Hoover look like an archangel by comparison.

Any jackass can spend money. Any crackpot with money at his disposal can build for himself a dictatorial crown. It takes no brains to be liberal with other people's money.

It is time for the American public to perform a sit-down strike - not on industry, not on men of commerce, but on politicians. They are sitting down on you, waiting for the government executioner, waiting for the last chapter of the Bill of Rights to be burned at the stake like a witch, waiting for the Supreme Court to put its head on the chopping block.

(10) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (25th July, 1938)

The term "Popular Front" was coined by European Communists as an appealing smoke-screen behind which to conceal their subversive destructionism.

The moniker "Democratic Front" is the latest catchpole by which the Browderites hope to ensnare deluded Americans in a Red web. Never in the history of language has a word been so misused as "democracy" by Communists in this country. The fact that they have the effrontery to use the word despite what has happened under Communism in Russia, Spain and Mexico is some indication of their contempt for the intelligence of American citizens.

If there must be "fronts," let us have a Christian Front!

Not a "front" to throttle, enslave and destroy America, but one to preserve America as one of the last frontiers of human liberty!

Outside of practical Christianity in the United States, all is darkness, confusion and despair. On one side stand the unrelenting rocks of greedy industrial capitalism. On the other, billowing swells of mistreated workers are being

gradually rolled up into a Communist sea.

Without applied Christianity there can be no charity on one side, no peace on the other.

Then - let us have a Christian Front!

A Christian Front made up of Catholics and Protestants who still believe that America, as it is now, is capable of containing both capital and labor under conditions of progress and mutual co-operation.

A Christian Front that will force industrial capitalism to yield to labor a fairer share of the nation's wealth.

A Christian Front of such solidity and energy as will curb the Molochs of international finance and will restore to the Congress of the United States its Constitutional right to issue and regulate the money of this Nation.

A Christian Front that will never compromise with Communism, Fascism, Nazism or any other movement tending to destroy representative government.

A Christian Front that will not temporize for a moment with the hypocrisy of subversive agents who attempt by mealy-mouthed insincerity to show "there is nothing irreconcilable between Christianity and Communism."

A Christian Front which is not afraid of the word "fascist" because it knows the word "fascist" is merely bandied about as part of Communism's offense mechanism.

A Christian Front which will not tear to be called "anti-Semitic," because it knows the term "anti-Semitic" is only another pet phrase of castigation in Communism's glossary of attack.

A Christian Front that will be for America at Washington - not against America from Moscow!

(11) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (21st November, 1938)

Is it not true that Communism has made progress in the world - Communism which is anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-liberty, anti-Christian and only pro-Semite as long as the Semites do not practice their own ancient religion?

Is it not true that some unseen force has woven the threads of international banking to the detriment of civilization; that a godless force is dominating industry, has monopolized control of many industrial activities, has used governments as their servants, and has been instrumental in flinging one nation against another nation's throat?

Is it not true that even the so-called freedom of the press and of the radio is questionable when we view the propaganda which niters through the ether to the detriment of peace and prosperity?

Is it not true that gold, the international medium of exchange, has been concentrated in the hands of a few private individuals while nations languished, poverty-stricken, with want in the midst of plenty?

Is it not true that there is an intensification of armament building; that discord and hostility are being sown throughout the world; that we are being conditioned to expect the outbreak of a universal war?

(12) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (28th November, 1938)

Believe me, my friends, it is in all charity that I speak these words as I seek to discover the causes that produced the effect known as Nazis - Nazism which was evolved to act as a defense mechanism against the incursions of Communism. Let us not forget the object of this discussion. My purpose is to contribute a worthwhile suggestion to eradicate from this world its mania for persecution.

(13) John Cogley, editor of the Chicago Catholic Worker, letter to Charles Coughlin (22nd May, 1939)

In a sense you are the most powerful Catholic voice in the United States today. You are a unique priest. You are heartily disliked. You are genuinely beloved. You are a definite, undeniable force on what novelists like to call the American scene. Your opinions sway millions; you dismay millions more.

You were a pioneer, and nobody who is devoted to the cause of social justice can forget that it was you who first made the word encyclical a part of America's working vocabulary.

But there is an unmistakable group of your faithful friends, violent supporters of you and your program, that have come popularly to be called "Coughlinites." They get into people's hair. They get into mine. At times they probably get into yours. They are probably good simple people who don't have much sense, and it should not reflect on you that they have rallied beneath your banner.

This "fringe" has become notorious for its burning anti-Semitism, and they have persisted in canonizing you as the patron of prejudice. They have become psychotic on the question of Jews. They are using your controversial Russian revolutionist figures to justify a senseless, unchristian attitude toward Mrs. Cohen, the delicatessen lady around the corner, and Meyer, the insurance collector. They have confused your anti-Communism campaign with an anti-Semitism campaign.

These Christians, many of them Catholics who are known as "Coughlinites," have the thing all balled up. Something should be done to set them right. Somebody should talk to them. They would listen if you did. What you could say would help to make up for the pain and insult many innocent, godly Jews have received from your confused followers.

(14) Charles Coughlin, radio broadcast (5th June, 1939)

When, either in speech or writing, have I advocated Nazism? It is true that I have regarded it as a defense mechanism against Communism. It is true - this following statement is supported by incontestable facts - that many Jews were among those responsible for furthering Communism in Germany and bringing that country to such a despondent state that Nazism became a reality.

(15) Charles Coughlin, interviewed by Edward Doherty, The Liberty magazine (12th August, 1939)

The average Jew, the kind we admire and respect, has been placed in jeopardy by his guilty leaders. He pays for their Godlessness, their persecution of Christians, their attempts to poison the whole world with Communism.

My purpose is to help eradicate from the world its mania for persecution, to help align all good men. Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, Christian and non-Christian, in a battle to stamp out the ferocity, the barbarism and the hate of this bloody era. I want the good Jews with me, and I'm called a Jew baiter, an anti-Semite.

I am anti-Communist and anti-Nazi. I am an American. No true American can favor either Communism or Nazism. We must admit, though, that pro-Communist sentiment is growing in America. Newspaper and radio propaganda is responsible along with the shallow thinking of those exposed to that propaganda. In order to whip up sentiment for Communism our people are being flooded with accounts of Nazi atrocities. You almost never hear anything or read anything about Communist persecutions.

(16) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (9th September, 1940)

On previous occasions Congressmen have called for the impeachment of the President.

On those occasions most citizens disagreed with the Congressmen.

At length, however, an event has transpired which now marks Franklin D. Roosevelt as a dangerous citizen of the Republic - dangerous insofar as he has transcended the bounds of his Executive position.

In plain language, without the knowledge or consent of Congress, he has denuded this country of thirty-six flying fortresses, either selling or giving them to Great Britain.

By this action Franklin D. Roosevelt had torpedoed our national defense, loving Great Britain more than the United States.

He has consorted with the enemies of civilization - through the continued recognition of Soviet Russia.

He has deceived the citizens of the United States - telling the newspaper reporters, who are the people's eyes and ears at Washington, that he did not know the whereabouts of these flying fortresses.

He has transcended the bounds of his Executive position - spurning the authority of Congress.

He has invited the enmity of powerful foreign nations- on whose natural resources we depend for essential tin and rubber.

Because he has encouraged the British government to reopen the Burma Road, and encouraged Britain to declare war on the German government, when Britain was unable to care for the English people - he stands revealed as the world's chief war-monger.

All these events, culminating with the transfer of these 36 flying fortresses without the consent of Congress, demand that he be impeached.

(17) Charles Coughlin, Social Justice (8th December, 1941)

Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so- called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world.

Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.