Oral History Interview with Judge Marvin Jones
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened May, 1971
Oral History Interview with
HESS: Judge, before we get into the days of the War Food Administration and Mr. Truman's administration, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where and when were you born?
JONES: I was born in the country, on a farm, about ten miles south of Gainesville, Texas on February 26, 1884; I believe that's the date. I grew up on the farm, went to country school, one room schoolhouse, and I took an examination for a teacher's certificate when I was sixteen
years old and passed it and was given a certificate to teach in the state; but the trustees would take one look at me and say, "You are too young to manage our school." I taught school one year when I was only about eighteen or nineteen years old.
HESS: What grades did you teach?
JONES: There were no grades. I just taught a one room country school one year at Elm Grove. I was a tenant farmer one year, growing both wheat and cotton. Father had eleven children, nine of them lived to adulthood. He wasn't able to send us to college on the farm prices of those days.
I followed a schoolteacher out to Miami, Texas, in the Panhandle of Texas, in 1901. I was very fond of the teacher and went to school out there a year in a school that was
called Miami College. It was really a good high school. I was graduated from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. That's the predecessor of Southern Methodist University. I finished a four-year college course there in three years. I worked my way through school and paid my own expenses. I won the Commencement Debate at Southwestern, which was regarded as the school event of the year.
I then entered the law school at the University of Texas. I took a three year law course there in two years, and was the second man in the class, and was appointed one of the three quizmasters. We conducted weekly quizzes and graded papers for the weekly quizzes. I won an oratorical prize -- a gold watch.
In 1908 I located in Amarillo, Texas for the practice of my chosen profession. I practiced law there seven years. I was chosen by the
Court of Civil Appeals as Chairman of the Board of Legal Examiners for the people who wanted to practice law in the sixty-nine counties of the Court of Appeals District.
I had wanted to get into politics from the time that I can first remember. I ran for Congress in 1916. The sitting man was John H. Stephens of Vernon, Texas. There were fifty-three counties in the 13th Congressional District which was 20 percent larger than the State of Ohio and larger than any state east of the Mississippi except Georgia. Georgia had fifty-nine thousand, and Ohio had forty-three thousand square miles.
HESS: Was that all of the Texas Panhandle?
JONES: All the Texas Panhandle and went down into North Texas -- it had been gerrymandered.
HESS: How far down did they go?
JONES: They went down within thirty-five miles of Dallas, Cook, Denton, Wise, Montague -- a shoestring district. It was more than 400 miles long.
HESS: What was the population back then? Do you recall?
JONES: There hadn't been a redistricting for twenty years and they had at that time nearly seven hundred thousand population. The Legislature had difficulties in redistricting the large state. I knew they would redistrict soon. I thought it was a good time to run. A whole group of men I knew were planning to run as soon as there was a redistricting act.
I announced in 1916, and two other men announced. One was a rich man, Reuben Ellerd. I carried all but five of the counties. I really worked at it. I bought a Model T and I drove
it like the wind, worked day and night, wore myself out, but I was elected.
HESS: Did the other men work as hard as you did?
JONES: No, they didn't. They spent more money. One of them didn't work anything like as hard and the other one was a great big man, physically -- he was also a great talker. He spent a lot of money, a lot of money for those days, and I didn't have it to spend, so I used his lavish expenditure of money as my text. I said it's his money, he has a right to spend it in any way he wishes.
We didn't have loud speakers much in those days. There were no movies -- no radios. People came to public speaking in that era. I would say, "It's Mr. Ellerd's money. I'm not criticizing his spending, but," I said, "I want to talk to you about approving that lavish
expenditure of money in seeking public office. If you want to close the door of opportunity to every young man in the country, this is the way to do it. In England, the men with money are in the House of Lords. They don't get any salary. The body has only rich men, and much of the legislation for the people is killed in the House of Lords because they don't understand the needs of average people. Do you want to make a House of Lords out of the .American Congress?"
I would see a boy standing by his dad, or a man with a boy in his arms. I would look at the man with the boy standing by him and I would say, "Before you scratch my name from the ticket on July 22, I want you to take that blue eyed boy (or brown eyed boy), in your arms and say, 'Son, I voted today to close the door of opportunity in your face. I love you, but
this is what I decided I had better do."' I believe that argument was very effective.
HESS: Do you think that swung some votes?
JONES: I think it helped. Anyhow, I saw a great many people personally. That was the most effective way in those days.
I would like to tell you one incident that happened that was published all over the state later. They had a picnic reunion at Matador, Texas. It is right out on the prairie and there wasn't any shade. They had an arbor built covered with gunny sack material -- the only shade on the grounds. There were some mesquite trees, but it was summertime and dry and those mesquite trees simply stopped the breeze and didn't stop the sun.
Everybody came into that arbor bringing
their children. The arbor was oblong with the speaker's stand on one side. A big mechanical merry-go-round was located on the opposite side from the speaker's stand. It produced the most mechanical music I ever heard, and was pulled by two small mules. There were not many people riding on it, mostly the youngsters. Very few could hear the speaker. The women would let the children blow up the singing balloons. Dr. Samuel Brooks, President of Baylor University was running for the Senate. He was a magnificent speaker. I admired him very much. He spoke at 11 o'clock and very few could hear him.
HESS: Drowned out by the merry-go-round?
JONES: Yes, drowned out by the merry-go-round. Mr. Ellert and I spoke in the afternoon. By agreement, we would alternate in speaking
that day -- he spoke first. Mr. Ellerd was the rich man, a great big husky fellow, and he puffed and blew and hollered and just wore his voice out. I was sitting there with the chairman whom I had known in school, Wendel Johnson; and I said, "What do you think that fellow makes on that clanking merry-go-round?"
He said, "Not very much, about eight or ten children are riding on it."
I said, "If you can hire him to break down for about three dollars when I start speaking, I think it'd be a good investment."
He says, "That's a good idea." He slipped out and went around. He came back grinning. I didn't think he had had time to get back. He said, "I got him for two."
HESS: He went cheap didn't he?
JONES: Yes. I think he wanted to rest his mules
anyway. When I started speaking I had a magnificent hearing of country people. The folks stopped all the talk, and I had a wonderful hearing before the big crowd and a lot of handshaking followed. After it was over I met Mr. Ellerd, my adversary, out on the grounds. He said, "You're the luckiest damn man I ever saw. That machine broke down just after you started speaking."
I said, "Yes, I guess I was lucky, wasn't I?"
I have a picture of that merry-go-round. The newspaper had coincidently take a picture of that whole contraption at that time. Years later when the story was published over the state, Douglas Meador sent me a clipping which I have in my files.
You may not want to use it and may take it out if you wish.
HESS: It's all right.
JONES: Anyhow, I came to Congress.
HESS: One thing on that: What was your first impression of Washington when you came here?
JONES: I had never been east of the Mississippi River and they had told me when I was running, this wealthy man would say, "This is no time to send a boy to Congress. The war was over in Europe, and sparks were flying all around in 1916. He said, "Why, if you elect him, he can't find his way to Washington."
I just laughed and said, "He may be right, but," I said, "if you elect me, I'll get somebody to show me if necessary. I'll get there." It amused people.
Anyhow, when I first came to Washington I had thought everybody would be dignified. I
went to the gallery. I didn't know I had the right as a member-elect to go on the floor. Sam Rayburn had the same experience four years before. He and Hatton Sumners stayed up in the gallery at first. We were not told until after we arrived that members-elect had the privilege of the floor. Hatton Sumners laughed in telling me later that he was afraid he would be arrested if he got in the wrong place.
Anyhow, I then went on the floor and I was shown great interest by Champ Clark who was Speaker. He helped me a great deal as he did all the youngsters. You couldn't have beaten him for a Speaker in a thousand years. He left the Speaker's stand and came down the aisle. I thought he was going to the cloakroom. Instead, he sat down by me and began talking about as follows:
"The first few months you are here you won't have to do much, even if you may be a member of an important committee. I suggest that you sit here and take a note every time a point of order is made. Then go over that night and take the ten volumes of House Precedents which are furnished every new member, and read all the decisions on that point, and," he added, "in a few months, you'll know more about the rules of the House than anyone except about five or six members who make a specialty of mastering the rules."
That was good help and I did just that. Soon, with the exceptions he mentioned, I knew as much about parliamentary procedure as anyone in the House. I was able to secure a lot of amendments adopted during the twenties. I figured out several shortcuts that later became House procedure. Any rate, then when I became Chairman of
the House Committee on Agriculture in '31, the second two years of Hoover's administration, I found that knowledge of the rules helped exceedingly during the succeeding ten years. I handled a great deal of the Roosevelt legislation. In fact, more than any other one person.
HESS: What was that legislation?
JONES: Here is a list of the major bills I handled during my period as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture.
cattle -- and distribute the meat on relief through local packing arrangement using relief labor.
and marketing farm products at home and abroad including research, correcting freight rate discrimination and research laboratories.
(I have eleven presidential pens with which these bills were signed. They are in the Panhandle Historical building on display in Canyon, Texas. This was at a time when they did not give them away by the bushel -- only one to the chairman of the House and Senate Committees which handled a bill.)
The first thing I put through was the legislation to enact a farm bill -- the AAA. President-elect Roosevelt phoned me from Warm Springs, Georgia and said that the farms were being foreclosed by the thousands, and he said, "I
don't care who gets the credit. I'm sending Henry Morgenthau, Henry Wallace, and Rex Tugwell and others to Washington. I want you to sit down with them and write a farm bill. Put it through at this Lame Duck Session, if possible."
We took most of what I had already written. We worked all morning, and after a short lunch began again. About 3 o'clock Henry Morgenthau called me into an adjoining room and said to me, "I am compelled to leave for New York. I will see the President this afternoon. I see that you know more about this subject than all these fellows together." And he said, "And I'm going to tell the President so." He may have been flattering me.
It was an evenly divided party, and I had a terrific time, but I finally secured its passage at that evenly divided session.
HESS: What was your earliest piece of legislation?
JONES: Away back in the early part of my service, I secured the passage of a number of amendments, starting right after the First World War. During and after World War I the military forces issued a "blue discharge" to young who had enlisted when they were less than 21 years of age, and hadn't given the right age. When the military authorities found out their age, they would discharge them and give them a blue discharge. I got an amendment through in the early 1920s that they must be restored to duty, given their regular pay and an honorable discharge.
That was about 1920, 1919 or '20, I think. It was an important amendment because with a blue discharge the boy could not get a job under Civil Service.
Then I got an amendment through to abolish
the Council of National Defense, which was a war agency. After the war I made the motion to abolish it -- they were going to make a permanent thing out of it and it wasn't needed after the war. Well, I was trying to make a real fight. Then, Jim [James R.] Mann, the Republican floor leader, got up and said, "This young man is right and his amendment ought to be adopted." And that put it through.
Then they brought up a short but very important bill. The Republicans were in power and they said they were going to put the bill through without an amendment. The bill authorized the purchase of a large quantity of farm products to be shipped abroad. I offered an amendment to the effect that wherever it was practical they should buy these commodities from farmers or farmers' cooperatives instead of through dealers. That was the only amendment adopted
to that bill. The others were shouted down.
I studied the bills and secured the adoption of a number of amendments. I won't go through all of them, but the first real bill that I passed was immediately after the war. A measure had been passed authorizing the Interstate Commerce Commission to rezone the time of the entire nation.
In rezoning they divided Texas and put West Texas and western Oklahoma in mountain time. West Texas and the Panhandle of Oklahoma were outraged. They did business back toward Dallas and Ft. Worth, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston. The people rose up like receiving the benediction. I received numerous telegrams and letters. I went to see the chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission and asked that the central zone include West Texas and Oklahoma. "Oh," he
said, "we can't do that. I mean we can't -- El Paso is more than half way in the next zone." They had run the line right down through the two states.
I knew Mr. Rayburn very well. I had known him in Texas. He was in the Legislature when I was in law school, came to the university and took two or three courses in law, while he was serving in the Legislature. I told him, "There isn't anybody in that section who wants to be in mountain time. I want to introduce a bill to change this section back into central time.
It was near the end of the session. He said, "Well, you write up your bill and I'll get you a hearing before the Committee. I assured him I would not take more than ten minutes for a hearing.
I presented the bill to run the central
time zone down the western Oklahoma and western Texas state lines so that as a matter of law all of Texas and all of Oklahoma would be placed and remain in the central time zone permanently, or until such time as might be changed by Congress. It was to the western line of the Panhandle of Oklahoma and down the western line of Texas, including everything in West Texas and in western Oklahoma in the central time zone. That is the only part of the Nation where the time is fixed by law.
I appeared before the committee and they reported it right out. But that was toward the end of the session. I placed it on the consent calendar. I had buttonholed nearly everybody in Congress. In the meantime, Jim Mann of Chicago had gotten to be a great friend of mine because he knew I was very active. Any member of the House could object and thus
prevent its passage. Anybody could object to it. On the unanimous consent calendar one person could object and throw it off the calendar.
I saw all the regular objectors and told them what the bill was about. I didn't speak to Jim Mann as I thought he wouldn't object. But when the bill was reached and the Chair asked if there were objections, Mr. Mann got up, to my surprise, and said, "Reserving the right to object. What's the purpose of this bill?"
I explained the purpose of the bill. But he said, "El Paso is way over beyond the middle of the mountain time." He said, "What's the excuse for that?" He kept me on the fan for about several minutes asking questions. I said, "Well, it's a fact that people don't go west to do commerce, they come east. No one should object because it doesn't affect
anybody except that area," and I had gotten the legislature -- the member from our area, to get a resolution through the legislature approving the bill.
And Mann asked a lot of questions, just kept asking them and then I said, "Well now, the legislature of Texas has unanimously passed a resolution approving this change."
"Oh," he says, "a legislature will pass anything, that doesn't mean anything."
I said, "Well, now that may be true of the Illinois legislature, but we have a pretty good legislature in Texas."
He laughed and said, "All right, I have no objection." So the bill went right through by consent. Soon he motioned me to come over and he said, "I had no idea of objecting, but," he said, "when I don't object, most others don't." And he added, "Now if you had
slipped that through, your people wouldn't appreciate it."
And he said, "You send the record down to your papers and they will say you had a fight and satisfy even the Republican floor leader."
HESS: Had to fight for it a little bit.
JONES: Right. And he says, "That publicity will be worth something to you." That's what they do for a young fellow if they like him.
HESS: That's a good idea.
JONES: The bill pleased everybody in western Texas and Oklahoma. At the beginning of my second term, the Congress considered a bill to establish six Veteran's Hospitals. They were going to start with at least six Veteran's Hospitals. The bill had them all located in
Democratic areas or at least most of them. At any rate, it was before the 1920 Harding landslide. The bill had provided the location for each of the proposed hospitals.
A fight was being made on Dawson Springs, Kentucky, where one was to be located. It was a small place and there was not much evidence in the record about the location. Mann and several members were trying to strike Dawson Springs off the list. I arose and moved to strike out Dawson Springs, Kentucky and insert Amarillo, Texas. The Republicans had nearly as many members as the Democrats. I was asked a lot of questions about Amarillo. Among other things, I said, "That's the only county of twenty thousand people in the United States that doesn't even have a cemetery; it's a healthy place."
And they asked, "Well, what do they do with
people that die?"
I said, "Very few of them die, and they carry them over into the next county." That's true. Amarillo is right on the county line. In fact, part of Amarillo has spilled over into the next county. It amused everybody and they adopted the amendment. I knew they would knock it out when it got over in the Senate, but I received a lot of favorable publicity. They eliminated it in the Senate -- saving the neck of the veteran member from Kentucky.
I really secured a hospital later on during the Roosevelt administration, when we first came into power -- after the Hoover period. I got the hospital located in Amarillo and it's there now and one of the best.
HESS: Was that during the Hoover administration?
JONES: No. General Hines was the director and was kept in charge. It was after Roosevelt came in. I had to talk Mr. Roosevelt into an extra allotment of $400,000 in order to have sufficient funds.
HESS: Since you came...
JONES: I hadn't intended to tell that. It just popped into my mind.
HESS: That's all right. That's oral history, that's what oral history is.
Since you came up to Washington when President Wilson was here, what kind of a man was President Wilson?
JONES: President Wilson was a very, very capable man, but he had been a schoolmaster, and he had to learn a good deal about dealing with the political -- with the practical phases and he had
his difficulties -- he was a magnificent scholar.
HESS: Do you think he ever learned the lesson to deal with politics and politicians?
JONES: He never fully learned it. But at one time his personal popularity was so great that he could get most of what he wanted. Soon after I became a Member, several Members were going down to see him when the Women's Suffrage measure was under consideration. Chairman Hal Flood of Virginia, Alben Barkley and several members said to me, "We're going down to the White House. Don't you want to go with us to see the President?"
I said, "Sure." I went with them. I had campaigned for him in 1916 after my election, and I had a great admiration for President Wilson, but he had a way of saying,
Members would say he would snap down that Presbyterian jaw of his, and demand his way.
He was so anxious to secure the League of Nations as a vehicle of lasting peace, that he conceded the right of Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Premier [Vittorio Emanuele] Orlando to levy too much reparations, that is, too heavy in the way of money in order to get them to agree to support the League.
HESS: Do you think that if he had handled that differently, that Henry Cabot Lodge would not have been able to block that?
JONES: I'll tell you about that now. The man that defeated that League was not Lodge but Jim [James A.] Reed of Missouri. The opponents were afraid of Wilson's popularity and they
were just talking about having some reservations to Article 10. They were suggesting some reservations. None of them were talking about defeating the League prior to Reed's speech -- they hoped to, get on some reservations. But Wilson started abroad for his second trip. It was nearly 1920. It was while the Democrats were still in power.
James A. Reed was a powerful speaker. He was against nearly everything. Champ Clark told me one time laughingly (Speaker Clark had a good sense of humor), I asked him about Jim Reed and he said, "He's a natural born prosecutor. If he can't find one of his enemies to prosecute, he will prosecute one of his friends."
One day Jim Reed arose in the Senate and announced he was going to speak against the League of Nations. Woodrow Wilson was in
Europe. Reed made a powerful speech attacking the League directly. I went over to the Senate to hear him. I sat there fascinated. Oh, he's an eloquent speaker. He told you about how the British Empire had six votes and we had one. Numerous small countries had one, and we had one vote. Even Haiti he said was to be a member of the League.
Reed said sarcastically they would be represented by the Duke of Lemonade. It was L-I-M-O-N-A-D-E. Reed used a lot of humor and ridiculed the League. The Senate Chamber was filled, the gallery was packed. He was repeatedly cheered, and he wound up with a tribute to the American nation. He pictured the farmers in the coonskin caps at Lexington, how they hung out the lanterns in the old North Church and Paul Revere rode out into the night. It was a beautiful peroration. When
he finished, the whole Senate stood up and cheered, as well as did the gallery. It's the only time during my stay in Washington that I saw the entire Senate stand up and cheer. The Chairman didn't try to stop them.
Members rushed over to shake hands with Reed. For several, minutes there they couldn't -- the Chair just quit trying to restore order. Almost immediately thereafter, Lodge began to talk about defeating the League of Nations. But that Reed speech was the killing blow. If anyone will read the speeches before Reed's speech and those that were made afterward, a vast difference will be seen.
HESS: Jim Reed's speech is what did it.
JONES: Jim Reed's speech is what killed the League of Nations, I don't care what anybody says. I took a copy of [Gilbert N.]
Hitchcock's speech. He was the leader on the other side. He led the fight for the League. Reed had made the principal speech against it. I took both those speeches home and M.J.R. Jackson, a leading lawyer there, asked me, "What do you think about the League of Nations?"
I said, "I would like to see some sort of an international organization. I haven't studied the League of Nations as some have, but I have the two main speeches, the leader on one side and the man who killed it on the other. I'll lend you those, I want them back."
He took the two speeches, He came back the next day and he said, "I'm against the League of Nations. Nobody can answer Reed's speech." And nobody ever did. And that was the killing blow. I unhesitatingly say that.
HESS: Very good.
JONES: Now, Lodge took up the fight, and a lot of others then began to oppose it. That was a pretty good description that Champ Clark had of him, a clever description anyway.
A story was published later on when Hyde, Arthur Hyde was selected as Secretary of Agriculture. Hyde was head of an automobile agency in Missouri. Hyde wasn't a farmer. Reed met Mr. Hyde one day soon after his appointment when he was getting on a train in Kansas City as Hyde was getting off the train. Reed went up to Hyde, poked out his hand, and said, "As one dirt farmer to another, let me congratulate you."
But anyhow I didn't intend to get in all that story, but you say it's all right to cover that. You can cut out a lot of this cuff conversation if you wish.
HESS: No, it's very good. We're going to leave
JONES: Anyhow, several years after I left the Congress, Leon Allen, Chairman, at the time, of the Rules Committee in the House said, "How many men have served in official capacity in all three branches of the Government?"
I replied, "I don't have any idea."
He said, "I'm going to ask the Congressional Library." They made up a list, and said they could only find six men who had served in all three branches. Jimmy [James F.] Byrnes and I are the living members who served in all three branches. The first one was Oliver Ellsworth and the next one was John Marshall. I didn't realize that Marshall had served in Congress. He served in Congress four years before he was appointed on the Supreme Court, from Virginia. I don't know of any others than the list furnished and nobody has raised any questions.
I was surprised to find there weren't more than that. Now, hundreds of them have served in two capacities in the Cabinet -- on the Federal courts and in Congress, but there haven't many of them served in all three branches. I have the names of the other two in my files as shown by the letter of the Librarian.
HESS: That's very good.
JONES: I am probably making this too long, but when I became chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, I handled more important legislation than anyone else in the House. I got the Agricultural Adjustment Bill through in -- right after the New Deal, after Roosevelt was elected. (I won't go back into the other legislation.) And they said, "We want you to bring up your bill first." Had it prepared in December and passed it through the House.
President Roosevelt wanted all the farm groups to agree on a bill and they agreed on the bill and made some changes in the bill that I had passed the House. All the farm groups agreed, but they -- [Henry A.] Wallace even wanted some changes in that, that they had made, but anyhow it came up and I had put it through the House right after Roosevelt came in and he came in in March you know, and called an immediate special session.
"The Blue Eagle" was passed early. Mine came in first and we had no trouble at that time. The House was overwhelmingly Democratic, and the bill went right through, but they held it up in the Senate. It didn't become a law until June, but it passed the House early in March, the first major big bill that was passed.
Before Roosevelt was inaugurated, about
three days before, Henry Morgenthau walked into my office and said, "The President wants you and Bill Myers to write an Executive order, using the reorganization bill that had been passed in the Hoover administration and not used much. He wants you and Bill Myers to write an Executive order, pulling out the different agencies lending money to farmers." There were about six different agencies including the Federal Land Banks. "Write an Executive order including these different lending agencies and establishing an independent agency, and naming it." It was Senator William I. Myers of Cornell University.
I said, "Mr. Morgenthau, I not only never have written an Executive order, I've never seen one." I said, "I've glanced over some of them, but I've never paid much attention."
And he said, "Well, that's the new President's order, and you had better do it."
Dr. William I. Myers of Cornell University and I wrote the Executive order consolidating the agricultural loan provisions, and also at the President's request had prepared the bill implementing the new agency. Dr. Myers was head of the Agriculture Department at Cornell University. He had come down with those bright boys and he was among the best of the group. We sat down and wrote a short Executive order. Bill did most of the writing as I was handling other emergency legislation. We didn't need to make it very long and called it the Farm Credit Administration, and provided for the five different wings of credit. The twelve land banks which we expanded and we reduced the interest rates. Then we broadened and provided twelve intermediate credit banks which were the discount banks; the twelve cooperative banks, and the Production Credit
banks -- 48 banks in all. They covered the same area as the Federal Reserve Banks. We called the agency the Farm Credit Administration. The President approved it just like we had written it. Then he says, "Now, I want you to write a bill implementing this agency."
We wrote the Farm Credit Administration together, and I was so busy in the House that Bill [Dr. Myers] wrote most of it, but I sat with him at night. We wrote and I introduced and sponsored the bill through the Congress with the help of the Agricultural and Senate committees. And that has never cost the Government anything. It reduced the farm interest rates about one-third percent all over the nation. We, in investigating, found up in the central northwest farmers were paying 22 percent interest when all the trimming were included. When arguing for the program I told about the time I went with
my father when I was a boy, to town to borrow money from the banks, as all farmers did. In those days, especially in the South, they had to borrow to make their money crops. And Mr. Head, the president of the bank, said, "Well, you are good pay, Mr. Jones. I'm going to let you have this money for three months." He added, "I usually make loans for only two months." After we left the bank, I said, "Why did you borrow for just three months? We aren't going to have any wheat out for six months (this was early in the year), and no cotton for eight months from now. You won't have the money to pay until then."
He replied, "They charge 10 percent and the interest is taken out in advance, compounded every three months, and they always charge a dollar for making out the papers." Well, you see, that ran a good deal above 10 percent. And then
Dad said this to me, "There should be a credit system for agriculture and livestock separate and apart from the commercial credit structure of the country. The present credit system is suited for the needs of business which must remain liquid because they may make a loan on an ice plant that may be closed six months from now." Then he repeated there should be a system separate for the farmer and rancher.
In those days in Texas they were about ten to one Democratic. Each candidate wrote his own platform. When I announced for Congress that was one of the planks in my platform. I still have a copy of the leaflet written in 1916. Those words burned into my mind, and I studied the idea. One of the first bills I introduced when I came to Congress was to establish a credit system for agriculture as separate and apart from the commercial credit
structure. I talked on it until I think they thought I was hipped on the subject. But within thirty days after the 1933 inauguration, I passed that bill through the House, after Roosevelt came in. And I told that story -- it's in the Congressional Record -- in March, 1933. I prize the pen with which the President signed the measure.
I had been introducing a measure for several years. Dr. William I. Myers and I worked out a better measure -- I consulted with some of the other members -- some of the other officials in the loan department. Henry Morgenthau became the first administrator of the Farm Credit Administration. Then he later went to the Treasury and Bill Myer became administrator. But that measure reduced interest rates on the farms more than 30 percent. The Government advanced two hundred
million dollars to get the system started. We reduced Federal Land Bank rates from about 6 or 7 percent to 4 percent. I think in some instances, three and a half. The rates on both old and new loans varied depending on the prevailing rate at the time the loan was made.
Then I passed a farm mortgage bill which immediately refinanced farm mortgages -- a necessity because there were farms by the hundreds foreclosing, banks were breaking by the thousands. Bankrupters were rife throughout the land.
HESS: Was this still in the first hundred days?
JONES: Yes, the AAA, the FCA, the emergency farm refinancing bill were all finally passed within the first hundred days. Those and other bills were passed in the first hundred days.
When the bills went over the Senate -- they don't act fast as we sometimes did in the House. When these bills reached the Senate, they were referred to committees. The Farm Credit measure went to both the Banking and Currency Committee and the Agricultural Committee. Part of the measure was under the jurisdiction of each of those committees in the Senate. They added a third bill -- reducing the gold content of the dollar. When the AAA and the FCA bills were reported to the Senate they had three separate titles.
We had a conference and reported the three measures with some amendments. The conference report was adopted and approved in May or June.
Now there were one or two other bills became a law first, but I had three major bills that became a law within the first one hundred days. I believe I also passed the cattle purchase
bill, but I am not sure about the date.
The cattle were not selling for enough to pay the freight except the good cattle. The better cattle were the only ones that would justify shipping to market. The cattlemen were just keeping the culls. The Agricultural Committee reported and we passed a bill authorizing an appropriation of two hundred million dollars to purchase the cull cattle and establish local packing concerns, all over the country furnishing work and distributing the meat on relief. Some packers made contracts to process the cattle for a price, but some of them didn't want to do that. So of necessity we used some of the buildings that were vacant to establish company plants so that the meat could be used and the better cattle saved. It takes years to build up quality cattle. It would have been a tragedy if
all the good cattle had been shipped to market. That measure became a law in 1933. They only used about a hundred and five million dollars, but I secured an appropriation for two hundred million.
Oh, I could go on all day long on this thing. I think that's enough of my...
HESS: Well, before we move on, I would like to ask you your general opinion of the three Republican Presidents that we had during that period of time: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.
JONES: For some years I have been lecturing occasionally at the Judge Advocate General's seminar at the University of Virginia. When I finished one of the lectures, the chairman said, "We're going to have a fifteen minute recess and then we are going to have the Judge
tell us about his estimate of the different Presidents he served with, eight I think of them." And he didn't ask me if I'd do it. Well, I just had to get up and talk. I told them my estimate of all of them.
HESS: He didn't clear this with you ahead o£ time?
JONES: No, he didn't clear it, they just sprang that on me, but they seemed fascinated with the stories that I told of my impressions of each one of them.
But, going back to your question, Warren Harding I don't think cared whether he was President or not, it was Mrs. Harding who was the ambitious member of the family. He wasn't interested in the details of the Presidency. I had sat with him in a joint conference between two joint committees, and he sat there and said little. He was the finest looking President we
have ever had, a magnificent speaker if somebody would give him a good speech, which I think they did, usually. He liked to play poker, but he delegated most of the duties of the office. I think he delegated too much. He let some designing men whom he trusted run away with the ball. I think they mistreated Harding. I don't believe he had any part in the crookedness.
Without his knowledge, I think some of them decided they had better do something for Harding and they arranged a sale of a paper he owned. I believe it was the Marion Star. Several hundred thousand dollars for the Marion Star, I believe $500,000, which I understand was really more than it was worth. They arranged for that paper to be sold. I believe he got that advantage but that's purely a surmise on my part. I don't know, the paper may have
been worth that amount, but any rate, he sold the paper that he owned when he became President. But, then, when this scandal began to be unfolded you know what...
HESS: Teapot Dome and...
JONES: Yes, scandals were terrible and Fall, you know, taking that money.
HESS: Albert Fall?
JONES: And a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in a black satchel in cash. Fall was in trouble about paying the mortgage on his river ranch -- Three Rivers it was called, the Three Rivers Ranch. But Harding, I heard Harding's speeches during his campaign for the Presidency. He would not say where he stood on the League of Nations. He didn't say much of anything. He said he favored an international
organization, call it a "concert of Nations" or what you please, but he said, "I don't think the present proposal is what we should have." But he wouldn't say much in his campaign. He was just against "wiggle and wobble."
I heard his inaugural address. It was the first time they had a loud speaker for the inaugural address. I went to hear his address. We all wondered what he would say about the League of Nations. The first part of his speech, he had a sentence that one could just feel caused a thrill to go over the audience. He said, "In the League of Nations, world governing with its super powers, this republic can have no part." That was a good sentence and a clear statement. That's the first time he had said anything like that. I went away over towards the Senate Office
Building, his voice would carry over the loud speaker for great distances.
When he would come before the joint session of Congress, he was a fine looking man, and he would deliver the speech magnificently. Mrs. Harding would sit up in the gallery stiff as a poker. She was the one that really wanted him to be President. Anyway, everybody thought so.
People all over the country were talking about him a good deal, and wondering. Harry Daugherty didn't keep up with anything. He just wasn't much Attorney General, but he was quite a manipulator. Effort was being made to hush things up, but Senator [David I.] Walsh refused to give up the investigation. He just stayed with it and finally uncovered the entire shameful scandal. When the Democrats came into power in 1933, Walsh was made Cabinet member and
died of a heart attack.
I only had occasion to call on Harding in his office one time about a public matter and then he said, "I wish you would take that up with one of the Cabinet officers." He just didn't like details. Matters were getting very serious in the summer of 1923. Congress adjourned, but the scandals were ripe. Harding made a late summer trip to Alaska and died in California on the way back.
There was considerable talk about the President. I think he should have known, but I don't think he did. I don't think he kept up with the Presidency. They could just do whatever they wanted to do and they took the play away from him. Old friends took advantage of his trust. That's my analysis. I don't know whether it's true, and some people thought he was probably in on it. I don't think so.
HESS: What were your impressions of Calvin Coolidge?
JONES: Calvin Coolidge preached economy. He said the country should be let alone for a while. Calvin Coolidge was a smart man, and he had a way of getting political advantage out of saying nothing. But he knew how to talk when he wanted to. Farm prices were rather low, but otherwise the country was relatively prosperous. Congress passed the McNary-Haugen bill, which I don't think would have worked because it levied a tax on the export of farm commodities, what they called an equalization tax and paid the proceeds directly to the farmers, but the trouble was that it didn't have any controls in it.
If you're going to raise the price of farm products above the market levels, some controls are necessary. Coolidge vetoed it with a blazing message. The proponents started in to write another farm bill.
In fact, I had wanted an export premium bill which the National Grange had helped to prepare. L.J. Tabor, John Ketcham of Michigan who was on the other side and I had sat down and had written an export premium or debenture bill which would issue a certificate which could be sold to exporters to pay tariff charges on imported articles. The proceeds of the sale would be paid to farmers when adjusting their production.
Well, Coolidge didn't want to veto the new bill at the next session of Congress. It was a modified version of the old McNary-Haugen bill. President Coolidge sent for John Ketcham and me to come to the White House to see him. We took L.J. Tabor along. We stayed down there about forty-five minutes and Coolidge did two-thirds of the talking. He said, "Now, it wouldn't be proper for me to say whether I would veto a
bill if passed," but he added, "I have submitted this proposed measure to Mr. Mitchell (who is Attorney General and I think one of the best lawyers in the country), and it's his opinion and I might say it's in accord with mine, that this equalization fee is unconstitutional." And he said, "I don't see how a President, any President, can approve a bill feeling the way I do of that bill. Now," he added, "as to your bill (that's Ketcham's and mine and Mr. Tabor's), I want to say again I don't think it's proper for the President to say in advance what he is going to do."
He was familiar with both bills in detail -- that's what amazed me -- he knew exactly what they were about. Then he added, "As to your bill, I'll say this, I'll go as far as any man and farther than most men in approving a bill of any kind that I think gives any promise
of helping the farmer's plight."
And I said to him, "Mr. President, may we quote you to the members on the Hill?"
He said, "Sure." He did not hesitate.
I'd like to tell a story here that I've never told in public and I've never seen it printed.
JONES: I lived at Congress Hall where many of the members and their families lived at that time. About a hundred members lived there and the Speaker and some Senators.
HESS: Where was that?
JONES: The Congress Hall Hotel was located where the Longworth Building is now. It was a beautiful hotel and a fine place to stay. Congress never adjourned there, they would frequently
sit in the lobby and talk shop all evening. The hotel was torn down to make way for the Longworth Building. It was a sad day for the members who lived there. But for the story.
Mrs. Coolidge was very fond of about twelve or fifteen of the women that she knew well at Congress Hall and she would have them down occasionally just for a special little tea or something, or a luncheon. A short time before the Coolidges left the White House, these women were invited to a small gathering about a week or ten days before the end of the Coolidge term. The women came back greatly amused and told me this story. As usual it went all over the hotel in one day. Somehow it was never published. Mrs. Coolidge said that at the time Mr. Coolidge was in the Massachusetts Senate, they had these two very small children. They lived in a $35 a month
rented house and had to save their money to get along. She added the smoothest tongued book agent she ever heard talk came by and sold her a home medical book, $6.00. He made her think it might save the children's lives, but certainly would help them in some illness, and she signed up.
It was to be delivered in about three weeks. She said he hadn't gotten around the corner before she knew she had made a mistake, but she had committed herself. When they delivered the book she placed it on the library table. Mr. Coolidge came in just before dinner, picked up that book and started reading it. He went back after dinner and sat there for an hour or so reading the book. He did that for about three nights and then he quit paying attention to it.
When Mrs. Coolidge saw he was no longer
interested, she placed the book on the shelf. She didn't say anything to him, he didn't mention it. Mrs. Coolidge put it up in the library and said that she never looked at it herself. She wasn't interested. When he became Governor, it went along with the other books. Neither mentioned it. He came down as Vice President to the Willard Hotel where they lived. It was taken over to the White House and all through those years it had never been mentioned. She told her guests she was going through accumulations just before leaving the White House to see what she could throw away, or give away. She picked up that book and decided she would look at it and found on the frontis page on the first blank page, in the President's own handwriting, this inscription, "I don't find in this book any cure for suckers." And she said, "I
folded it up and put it back," and until that day (she was talking to the women), just before they left the White House, "neither of us have ever mentioned that book." She says, "I'd die before I'd tell him that I'd seen it."
Isn't that a good story?
HESS: That's very good.
JONES: And I've told it several times, but I...
HESS: He knew she had been suckered into buying that book, didn't he?
JONES: Evidently he thought so. Coolidge became known as "Silent Cal." You may remember when H.L. Mencken criticized Washington as being a very ordinary person and accused him of being a rounder and of having many human weaknesses. A group of Congressmen went down there one day.
Coolidge always stood up when a group came in. He would rise up and greet them and remain standing. They would stay a less length of time. He apparently didn't care whether they stayed long or not. When they asked him what he thought about this criticism of George Washington, he walked over to the window, looked out and said, "Well, I see the Washington Monument is still standing." That's all he said.
He was clever in brief comments like that. The only trouble with Coolidge, he had a sort of a mystic confidence in the divine order of big business to run the country and he let them do just that. They ran pretty fast. The stock market was going up all the time and people were playing the stock market too much on small margins. People decided they could live off the stock market. It had a sort of a
hectic flush. All the money flowed into New York. The banks encouraged it. They talked about secondary reserves; recommended South American securities, at the same time urging those countries to build things they didn't especially need. The whole thing reached a dizzy height. Then the collapse.
In the spring before that happened in November, President Coolidge made the statement, "I don't choose to run." I don't know whether he thought they would draft him anyway or whether he just wanted to quit. The meaning of the statement caused endless discussion. If President Coolidge had done something to control the world speculation or had had regulation of the stock market enacted, it would have helped, but he was a pretty capable man otherwise and then when Hoover.... What time is it?
HESS: It's twenty minutes till twelve.
JONES: Well, I don't know. I'm getting a lot in this discussion.
HESS: This is all -- this is good background. It's good.
JONES: Now, I want to go on to Mr. Hoover.
President Hoover came in and I think he had been out of this country most of the time for twenty years. He didn't know the mechanics of the United States Government when he came into the Presidency. Then he became President in March, 1929. The newsmen pictured him as the great engineer. For the first eight months the market went up. It was described as the Hoover Bull Market, and he seemed pleased.
For example, the Cities Service Company had been selling at 25 or 27 in early 1929. Cities Service went as high as 66 just before
the crash. Other stocks had more than doubled during the eight months period.
John Garner talked to me about a week before the collapse came. Ogden Mills was Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Garner advised that Ogden Mills had said it was necessary to stop or at least halt this wild increase, that prices were getting too high and too dizzy, almost a wild scramble, that stock prices were far beyond their normal value and beyond their earning power.
The administration evidently raised the re-discount rate on money and tried to stop it too fast I suppose. At any rate, the whole market collapsed like a house of cards. Prices went down in one day in many instances to less than half. People jumped out of windows. One day people thought they were rich. The next day they were poor. The great
Hoover Bull Market had proved to be a dud. Newsmen and financiers and money experts had been bragging on Hoover all the time. But then when that happened he seemed lost. He didn't know what to do. He finally got the RFC enacted, but that took care of only banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies and railroads -- no loans to anyone else. John Garner said, "It's the only thing offered, I suppose we will have to vote for it."
I said, "I shall not. This thing should be available to every business that can meet the terms." I voted "no."
I offered an amendment on the floor of the House. The bill required adequate security, but the terms made clear that adequate security would be construed on a liberal basis. I offered an amendment there to make loans available to any individual or company that
could furnish adequate security as was defined in the bill.
We had quite a fight on my amendment. It received a surprising vote. I was asked to make a recording of parts of my speech, and it was used on a state-wide radio in Nebraska, and in other places in the West. It was quoted a great deal. Mr. Hoover never would do anything. He seemed baffled. He still thought -- he called in the big businessmen who had practically brought this tragedy on by encouraging lavish expenditures. People in the stock market were making money, of course, on paper, everybody was, and then the collapse came in one day.
Many began urging that the currency be expanded so that more money would be available. People didn't have any money. The total production was down to 39 billion dollars. Hoover kept
saying prosperity is just around the corner. He had in the campaign said to expect to have a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage. Hoover was terribly unpopular. In fairness to Mr. Hoover, later he made some wonderful speeches, after he got to studying and learned something about this country. He grew as much as any public man I have ever known. But most of this came after his administration was over.
Well, I don't know, do you want to go have lunch with me across the hallway here?