When the U.S. Post Office banned Fr. Charles E. Coughlin’s Social Justice from the mail in April 1942, ending its six-year run, it put the hopes, beliefs, and opinions of nearly half, perhaps more, of Americans into the dustbin of history, along with some useful facts we could use now as we move into the Second Great Depression.

The range and depth of the news topics of this weekly magazine with a million-plus circulation were unusual, for Coughlin’s time and ours.  With large folios of 11″ by 17″ and usually 20 to 24 pages per issue, Social Justice focused on the New Deal’s failure to solve the crises in banking and agriculture; the infiltration of communists into government agencies at both federal and state levels; their control over the public-education system, both universities and schools; the entangling alliance between England and the United States in the “great game” to control the resources of Asia and the Middle East, and the inevitable world wars it would bring; and the disintegration of public morality and civic virtues, especially through Hollywood movies and mass-circulation women’s magazines.  In terms of news and information, its quality was far superior to Time or Newsweek—which were consistent critics of Coughlin, the famous “Radio Priest” with a weekly audience estimated at 40 million.

Unlike Time and Newsweek, which depended heavily on advertising, especially for automobiles, Social Justice never carried advertising but grew its circulation by giving away cars and large cash prizes to peddlers who solicited the most subscribers in weekly contests or sold the most newspapers, often outside Catholic churches on Sunday mornings, but also at city newsstands.

The January 1, 1940, issue had a two-page promotional spread offering $15,000 in 136 prizes for a “Forward America” subscription drive.  The top prize was a Cadillac 72 Fleetwood (valued at $2,995); the second, a Chrysler Crown Imperial ($2,245); then a Lincoln Zephyr V-12, a La Salle 52 Special, etc., and 100 cash prizes.  Readers were encouraged to phone their friends and ask them to subscribe.

Social Justice addressed the troubles and crises—economic, political, social, military—faced by Americans 70 years ago and documented how many of the people’s representatives opposed the financial elites, whose well-paid shills, such as Dorothy Thompson, Walter Winchell, Walter Lippman, Joseph Alsop, and John Spivak (among many others), kept up the media’s attacks on Coughlin.  (Coughlin, of course, reported and parried these smear attacks in great detail every week, all the better to boost circulation.)

Besides President Franklin D. Roo-se-velt’s efforts to drive the United States into another European war, the issue taking up the most paper and ink was FDR’s failed attempt to solve the Great Depression.  All through 1939 and 1940, ten years into the Depression, FDR and his agents still didn’t know how to “stabilize the banks” and end the foreclosures facing millions of farmers and homeowners.

Today, Americans feeling fleeced by bankers, or who see history repeating itself as farce, will enjoy a Social Justice report from December 18, 1939, headlined, “Stabilization Fund Is Still A Mystery: Who Wrote Law, or Why, Even President and U.S. Treasury Dept. Did Not Know.”  The bottom line was that the secretary of the treasury, the owner of all the gold in America following confiscation in 1934, surrendered it to the owners of the member banks of the Federal Reserve!

What Coughlin showed—rather, what his talented editorial staff led by Louis B. Ward (1892-1942), who died of a heart attack on April 20, right after the Post Office banned Social Justice, and assisted by Bernard J. O’Connor, his chief financial editor, showed—was that the New Deal made the federal government the creator and owner of the 117 largest corporations in America, a major employer unrestrained by basic economic rules and laws.  When the U.S. government was $42 billion (a quaint number!) in debt, it controlled for-profit assets larger than every corporation in America, excepting American Telegraph and Telephone.

“Under corporate form the Government entered the field of finance,” wrote O’Connor in the February 12, 1940, issue of Social Justice,

first to bail out the banks and insurance companies; then to rehabilitate railroads and utilities; then to finance or extend credit to farm and urban properties; then to introduce commodity loans; and finally Uncle Sam found himself directly in the field of private industry in rural electrification.


Today the Government of the United States owns more individual homes than any person or corporation in America.


These 117 tax-free, dividend-paying, Congress-funded corporations included the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Federal Farm Mortgage Corporation, the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Federal Savings and Loan Association, and the U.S. Housing Corporation.  As these corporations grew at taxpayer expense, Social Justice reported numerous congressional investigations that documented the lowering of wages and living standards and the creation of “debtors’ plantations,” where foreclosed farmers and their families slaved at vast cotton plantations in Texas and the Southwest to pay off their debts.>

Those who are wondering whether President Barack Obama is channeling FDR have a great deal to fear.  Unfortunately, President Obama lacks any of the serious, heavyweight political opponents Roosevelt had.

Among U.S. senators who wrote for Social Justice was Minnesota’s Henrik Shipstead, who lamented in an August 21, 1939, essay that 79 percent of the more than three billion dollars doled out to the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation—created by the government to prevent foreclosures—actually went to the banks instead of foreclosed home-owners and farmers, whose numbers were increasing.

And North Dakota’s Sen. Lynn J. Frazier explained that Congress was to blame for the country’s increasing financial troubles, because it allowed private bankers to control the money supply.

“The great conspiracy of modern times,” Senator Frazier wrote in the March 11, 1940, issue of Social Justice,

is the old bankers’ conspiracy to keep the volume of money small and the volume of credit fluctuating like an accordion. . . . As a result, currency is drawn into the channels of today’s necessities while credit is imposed upon a nation for the more necessary things of life . . . The thing to bear in mind is that whenever men reach for an increase on the loan of money the old principle of usury comes into play.


U.S. Rep. Jerry Voorhis (D-CA, and Richard Nixon’s first political victim), explained to Social Justice readers that an economic system built on usury was destroying the nation.  Former Sen. Robert L. Owen (D-OK), a sponsor of the Glass-Owen Act which created the Federal Reserve System, told Social Justice readers why the federal government must reassert control over the currency.  Expanding upon comments he made to the Senate on March 26, 1940, Senator Owen wrote in Social Justice that the Federal Reserve

creates an irresponsible monetary system where private persons create and destroy money according to their hopes and expectations of profit, or their fear and lack of confidence.  Chairman Marriner Eccles, of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, truly said, page 102, Senate Document No. 23, “The banks can create and destroy money.  Bank credit is money.  It is the money we do most of our business with, not with that currency which we usually think of as money.”


In August 1941, Voorhis gave a speech in the U.S. House of Representatives that was excerpted in the September 1, 1941, issue of Social Justice.  He criticized arguments against the government putting enough money into circulation so that people could  pay for necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter:

America’s destiny—the future hope of our people—depends on our vision, our courage and willingness to strike at privilege which is unreasonable and unjustifiable on any grounds whatsoever—the usurped privilege of private financial institutions to write upon their books the credit of the whole American people and sell it back to them with usury. . . .


And if the cry of “printing press money” is raised all I have to say is that we have “printing press money” now.  Federal Reserve notes are not even lawful money.  They bear upon their face the promise of the United States Government to redeem them in lawful money which means they must be, not lawful money but private bank notes—which is indeed the fact.  Here is a Government obligation of a very far-reaching sort, requiring us to redeem private bank notes in spite of the fact that the Government has shorn itself of the power to create money and the banks have grabbed that power.


From June 1939 to April 1942, Social Justice was the leading antiwar newspaper.  It promoted the America First movement led by Charles Lindbergh and the archbishop of Dubuque, Francis Beckman, a prominent and outspoken defender of Father Coughlin.

For Coughlin, his writers and readers, and probably a majority of Americans at the time, there were intimate connections between finance and war, and between war and social engineering.  Among the leading antiwar senators writing for Social Justice was Minnesota’s Ernest Lundeen, who, like his antiwar successor 60 years later, Sen. Paul Wellstone, died in a plane crash.

Coughlin also supported Milwaukee’s Rep. Lewis Dominic Thill, a Republican who, before losing his reelection bid in 1942, was urging Congress to pass legislation to investigate the extent to which “foreign agents” create, publish, and broadcast pro-war propaganda in books, newspapers, radio, and the movies.

Speaking on behalf of his bill on April 18, 1940, before Congress (his speech was published in the May 20, 1940, issue of Social Justice), Representative Thill offered insights that have an eerie relevance today:

The seriousness of the situation resulting from the dissemination of war propaganda in the United States cannot be over-emphasized.  Much propaganda material appears in the newspapers; it is heard over the radio; it is mailed to the office and the home; it comes to the desks of Members of Congress every day.  How much of this information is false cannot be gauged by the average person.  Needless to say, much of this propaganda is a skillful misrepresentation of facts, some of it has an element of deceit; some of it is a deliberate statement of untruth, and most of it can be characterized as a vicious and vile fraud upon the American people.  Congress should take immediate steps to eradicate this evil. . . .


The minds of American citizens are being warped by propaganda.


Social Justice was the antithesis of Henry Luce’s Life, founded in September 1936 (eight months after Social Justice began).  Each issue of Life cost ten cents and boasted a circulation of nearly one million.  But whereas Luce championed a “New American Century” in which an Anglo-American partnership ruled Central Asia (all the “stans” where the United States is currently bogged down) and argued for the necessity of controlling Mesopotamia’s and Persia’s oil, Social Justice warned that such efforts would doom the American Republic.  Where Luce’s magazine glorified and glamorized the lives and careers of the rich and fatuous, Coughlin tried to stir a popular revolt against the smut and pro-war propaganda that was filling popular magazines and Hollywood films and corrupting the family and civic virtues.

Week after week, Social Justice exposed those individuals and corporations who would profit from war and who funded pro-war propaganda in newspapers and films.  The August 19, 1940, Social Justice reported that the treasurer of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was Frederick C. McKee, who was also the treasurer and chairman of the finance committee of the National Casket Company.  Another of the leading lights on the Committee to Defend America was Henry Breckinridge, a prominent New York attorney.  He was also the director of Aeronautical Securities, Inc, which had invested nearly $630,000 in 21 aviation companies, including Douglas Aircraft, Curtis-Wright, Lockheed, and Glenn Martin.  As evidence that the United States was preparing for war, Father Coughlin cited the fact that the government was buying large quantities of condoms.

Around the same time, editor-in-chief Louis B. Ward wrote a series of essays on “The Rise of the Guilds,” “Usury in History,” and other historical subjects—all well worth reprinting today.  One of these was on the “Causes of Modern Wars”: exaggerated nationalism; economic imperialism; militarism; the secret treaty; and propaganda.  Ward reminds us that “[E]mpires have been stopped cold in their historic tracks when they sought to violate the principle of nationality and transmit any good or permanent gift by way of empire.”

As the country sped to war, even though close to 90 percent of U.S. citizens were against it, the Catholic bishops were deeply divided, and the American public, as a whole, did not know if the Church would speak with one voice.  Then in July 1941, Bishop Joseph Hurley of St. Augustine, spokesman for the National Catholic Welfare Conference (successor of the National Catholic War Council and predecessor of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, today’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), announced that the Catholic bishops would support FDR’s war.

His main argument was recycled 60 years later when the Bush administration settled on a preemptive war with Iraq.  “As for the people,” Hurley said, “they have neither the experience nor access to the facts to decide whether we should go to war.”

Time hailed Hurley—especially for the bishop’s attack on Coughlin and that

small and noisy group of Catholics. . . . We have suffered long from their tantrums.  We have blushed for shame when they acted up before company as tantrum children will do in any family.  Years ago they established the crank school of economics; latterly they have founded the tirade school of journalism; they are now engaged in the ostrich school of strategy.


Archbishop Beckman responded in a nationally broadcast radio address on NBC:

From the beginning I have maintained that this war, however falsely represented, is an economic war based on greed, a vast struggle for power and possessions between two diametrically opposed systems of finance.


The problem over which the warring nations have come to death-grips is simply this: whose economy shall be dominant in Europe, ours or yours?  In short, “who is to exploit who [sic]?”

The entrenched internationalists had their day; they financed the world into eternal debt and milked whole peoples, grinding them down into the dust of ignorance, poverty, and abject despair. . . .

Neither side is interested in God so much as gold or its equivalent.  And there is no crusade for Christianity or democracy afoot anywhere in the world today either, all high-sounding slogans to the contrary notwithstanding . . . The spirit of whole peoples shattered by interminable warfare will prove fertile soil for the cockle of a new type of Communism.  This new “godlessness” I will call it, because it is like to be a composite of that paganism prevailing in high places everywhere today, is something I tremble to contemplate . . .


An enterprising publisher or journalist today could take Father Coughlin’s Social Justice and reprint it nearly verbatim; only a few names and dates would have to be changed.

Oh, and why did the Post Office ban Social Justice?  Because on March 16, 1942, the magazine printed the text of an address delivered by Samuel Untermeyer on radio station WABC (August 6, 1933) in which the executive of the World Jewish Economic Federation declared a “holy war” against Germany and called for an international economic boycott of German goods—an address printed in full in the August 7, 1933, New York Times and available for all to see today on the Times’ website.