McNary-Haugen Farm Legislation

The most prominent agricultural assistance legislation of the decade, the McNary-Haugen bills were named after two key lawmakers who fought to bring the farmers' standard of living up to that of industrial workers in the face of a recession in agriculture which persisted from the end of the first World War throughout the twenties. Senator Charles McNary of Oregon, a progressive Republican, was chairman of the Senate Agriculture committee. Gilbert N. Haugen, a progressive Republican from Iowa, championed the farmers' cause on the House side. The legislation they sponsored was intended to help farmers get higher prices for their goods. The federal government was to boost agricultural prices by buying up surpluses, then "dumping" them abroad on foreign markets.

The first McNary-Haugen sponsored Agricultural Surplus Control Bill began to make its contentious way through Congress beginning in 1924 but did not reach a vote until 1927. It passed Congress on February 17, 1927, but was vetoed by President Coolidge on February 25, 1927. Congress signed off on a second Agriculture Surplus Control Bill on May 16, 1928 after negotiation between the two houses had produced an acceptable Conference Report. President Coolidge vetoed this second McNary-Haugen bill too, on May 23, 1928; he objected that supporting the farmer in this way would not solve, but would simply perpetuate the cause, as he saw it, of the problem: agricultural overproduction. The McNary-Haugen Bill 1923-28 case file in the Coolidge Papers indicates that even after the second veto, the Senate continued to try for passage of the bill.

Herbert Hoover, secretary of commerce throughout the period, also opposed the McNary-Haugen remedy. Once Hoover became president, however, he was again confronted with the issue. In 1929, he lifted the albatross from around the presidential neck by signing a compromise bill, the Agricultural Credits and Marketing Act.

Farmers were split on the McNary-Haugen bills and the issues they raised. Articles such as the one appearing in New Masses for February 1927 (pp. 22-23) suggested that the "dirt" or real farmers favored the legislation, while the gentlemen or wealthy "merchant" farmers, the "business man camouflaged as a farmer," needed it less and so did not fight for it. (DETAIL NOTE New Masses)

For more on this angle of the debate, readers may wish to consult a Coolidge case file not included in this collection, "Agriculture -- American Council July-October 1924," which airs the concern that, particularly in an election year, progress on farm relief might be stymied by political considerations. The fear was that, instead of the views of those who were "dirt farmers," that is, those who actually get their hands in the earth, carrying the greatest weight, the views of those connected to the farm industry only peripherally or those who had made campaign contributions might matter most.

The McNary-Haugen case file in the Coolidge Papers contains material documenting the fierce debate, some in the form of letters from farmers, a number of them handwritten, some relatively unschooled, expressing vehement opinions on both sides of the issue. In addition the Coolidge Papers case file Cooperative Marketing - Agriculture 1923-28 also contains material on McNary-Haugen sentiment and legislation.

Other remedies besides McNary-Haugen were proposed to combat the agricultural depression. Besides a variety of export-surplus bills, additional measures tried included farm cooperatives and the Agricultural Credits Act of 1923, which attempted to counter the farm problems of huge surpluses and falling prices by expanding the federal farm credit establishment. (DETAIL NOTE Agricultural Credits Act)


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