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Charles Coughlin


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Charles Edward Coughlin left his mark on history by being one of the United States’ first political leaders to use modern technology—radio—to reach the American public. Although known throughout the country as “Father Coughlin”, for several years he became widely known and revered more as a political/economic commentator and advocate for change than as a religious figure.

The descendent of Irish immigrants, Coughlin spent his early years in Hamilton/Ontario, Canada. As a student of the Catholic priesthood, he was deeply influenced by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical On the Condition of the Working Class, which called for far-reaching reforms meant to create a more just society in order to counter the global ascent of Socialism. Upon completing his education at St. Basil’s Seminary in 1916 and receiving ordination, Coughlin taught in Canada until 1923, when he immigrated to the United States.

From Wikipedia: " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Coughlin"

In October 1926 he began weekly radio broadcast of his sermons on a regular program, initially intended for children but later focused on adult topics—expressly on Coughlin’s views on the need for social reform. (Upset by his stances, the Ku Klux Klan planted a blazing cross on Coughlin’s lawn.) After losing free CBS-radio sponsorship in 1931 due to his opposition to President Hoover’s policies, Coughlin and his followers decided to raise the funds needed to create an independent national radio network, which grew quickly and soon reached several million listeners on a regular basis.

Coughlin staunchly supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential election, as Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms appealed to him. He coined the phrase “Roosevelt or ruin,” commonly heard and used words during the early days of Roosevelt’s administration. By the mid-1930’s, however, Coughlin began focusing on the seemingly negative influence of “International Bankers” and what he saw as the undue influence of businessmen and the dealings of Wall Street. He went on to advocate the premise of the Great Depression as a “Cash Famine” and said that one way to get America back on its feet was to eliminate the Federal Reserve System. As Joseph P. Kennedy, Frank Murphy and Coughlin were among the most prominent Irish Catholics in the U.S., when Coughlin began to publically criticize the New Deal, both Kennedy and Murphy attempted to persuade him to soften his rhetoric. Not to be silenced, Coughlin began denouncing Roosevelt as a tool of Wall Street.

Coughlin supported the populist Louisiana politician Huey Long, until Long was assassinated in 1935, and then supported William Lemke‘s third party in 1936. Thus, as Coughlin became a bitter opponent of the New Deal, his radio talks escalated in vehemence against Roosevelt, capitalists and Jewish conspirators. Kennedy, who strongly supported the New Deal, warned as early as 1933 that Coughlin was “becoming a very dangerous proposition” as an opponent of Roosevelt and “an out and out demagogue.” Kennedy worked with Roosevelt, Bishop Francis Spellman and Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) in a successful effort to get the Vatican to shut Coughlin down in 1936.[1] In 1940 and ‘41, Kennedy attacked the isolationism of Coughlin (and aviation hero Charles Lindbergh).[2]

In 1935 Coughlin proclaimed “I have dedicated my life to fight against the heinous rottenness of modern capitalism because it robs the laborer of this world’s goods. But blow for blow I shall strike against Communism, because it robs us of the next world’s happiness.”[3] He accused Roosevelt of “leaning toward international socialism or sovietism on the Spanish [Civil War] question.” Coughlin founded the National Union for Social Justice, an organization with a strong following among nativists and opponents of the Federal Reserve—especially in the Midwest. As historian Michael Kazin notes, Coughlinites saw Wall Street and Communism as twin faces of a secular Satan; they defended a “people” who cohered more through piety, economic frustration and a common dread of powerful, modernizing enemies than through any class identity.[4]

One of Coughlin’s campaign slogans consisted of “Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity”; it found singular resonance in the isolationist movement in the United States. Coughlin’s organization appealed especially to Irish Catholics. In 1936 Coughlin helped found a short-lived political party, the Union Party, which nominated William Lemke for President. Coughlin promised to retire if Lemke did not get 9 million votes, and when he received only 900,000 Coughlin



As of 1936, Coughlin increasingly expressed sympathy for the fascist policies of Hitler and Mussolini as an antidote to Bolshevism—though this was before World War II began. His CBS radio broadcasts also became overtly anti-Semitic. He blamed the Depression on an “international conspiracy of Jewish bankers”, and also claimed that Jewish bankers were behind the Russian Revolution. On 27 November 1938 he said “There can be no doubt that the Russian Revolution... was launched and fomented by distinctively Jewish influence.”

He began publication of a newspaper, Social Justice, during this period, in which he printed anti-Semitic polemics such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The 5 December 1938 issue of Social Justice included an article by Coughlin which closely resembled a speech made by Joseph Goebbels on 13 September 1935 attacking Jews, atheists and communists, with some sections being copied verbatim by Coughlin from a English translation of the speech published in 1935.

On 20 November 1938—two weeks after Kristallnacht, the cynical, premeditated pogrom in which Nazis attacked and killed Jews across Germany, and ransacked or burned Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues—Coughlin blamed the Jewish victims, saying that “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted.” Following this speech, and as his programs became increasingly anti-Semitic, some radio stations—especially in New York and Chicago—began refusing to air his speeches without pre-approved scripts. This made Coughlin a hero in Nazi Germany, where papers ran headlines like “America is Not Allowed to Hear the Truth.” On 18 December 1938 two thousand of Coughlin’s followers marched in New York protesting potential asylum law changes that would allow more Jews (including refugees from Hitler’s oppression) into the U.S., chanting, “Send Jews back where they came from, in leaky boats!” and “Wait until Hitler comes over here!” The protests continued for several months. Historian Donald Warren, using information from the FBI and German government archives, has maintained that Coughlin received indirect funding from Nazi Germany during this period.

Additionally, after 1936, Coughlin began supporting an organization called the Christian Front, which named him an inspiration. In January 1940 the FBI shut down the Christian Front when it discovered the group was arming itself and “planning to murder Jews, communists and ‘a dozen Congressmen’” and eventually establish, in J. Edgar Hoover‘s words, “a dictatorship, similar to the Hitler dictatorship in Germany.” Coughlin publicly stated, after the plot was discovered, that he still did not “disassociate himself from the movement,” and though he was never linked directly to the plot, his reputation suffered. [5]



At its peak in the early 1930s Charles Coughlin’s radio show was phenomenally popular: his office received up to 80,000 letters per week from listeners, and his listening audience was estimated to be as much as one-third of the nation. Coughlin is often credited as one of the major demagogues of the 20th century for being able to influence politics through broadcasting, without actually holding a political office himself.

Coughlin biographer Earl Boyea has argued that the Catholic Church did not approve of Coughlin. The Vatican, the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C., the archbishop of Cincinnati, and the chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) all wanted the priest silenced. They recognized that only Coughlin’s superior, Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher, had the canonical authority to curb him—and Gallagher supported the “Radio Priest.” Due to Gallagher’s autonomy and the prospect of Coughlin leading a schism, the Catholic leadership was impotent, a clear example of the limits of ecclesiastical power.

According to Sheldon Marcus’ book about Coughlin, the priest’s opposition to the repeal of a neutrality-oriented arms-embargo law triggered successful lobbying efforts to force him off the air. In October 1939—one month after the invasion of Poland—the Code Committee of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) adopted new rules which placed “rigid limitations on the sale of radio time to spokesman of controversial public issues.” Manuscripts were required to be submitted in advance. Radio stations were threatened with the loss of their licenses if they failed to comply. This ruling was clearly aimed at Coughlin and his leadership in opposition to the growing American involvement in the Second World War. As a result, the 23 September 1939 issue of Social Justice stated that he had been forced from the air “by those who control circumstances beyond my reach”. [6]

Coughlin later returned to broadcasting, however, though the popularity of his broadcasts fell rapidly as his anti-Semitism grew, and, in 1942, a new bishop of Detroit ordered Coughlin to stop his radio broadcasts and return to his duties as a parish priest. He remained the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower until retiring in 1966. He refused numerous interview opportunities, and continued to write pamphlets denouncing Communism until his death at Bloomfield Hills/Michigan in 1979, at the age of 88.

Adapted from a Wikipedia entry


Wikipedia and Spartacus.


  • Athans, Mary Christine. “A New Perspective on Father Charles E. Coughlin”. Church History, Vol. 56, No. 2. (June 1987), pp. 224-235.
  • Athans, Mary Christine. The Coughlin-Fahey Connection: Father Charles E. Coughlin, Father Denis Fahey, C.S. Sp., and Religious Anti-Semitism in the United States, 1938-1954, 1991.
  • Boyea, Earl. “The Reverend Charles Coughlin and the Church: the Gallagher Years, 1930-1937” Catholic Historical Review, 1995.
  • Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, 1982.
  • General Jewish Council. Father Coughlin: His “Facts” and Arguments. New York: General Jewish Council, 1939.
  • Hangen, Tona. Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion & Popular Culture in America, 2002.
  • Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History, 1995.
  • Marcus, Sheldon. Father Coughlin: The Tumultuous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower, 1972.
  • O’Connor, John. “Review/Television; Father Coughlin, ‘The Radio Priest,’” The New York Times, 13 December 1988.
  • Sherrill, Robert. “American Demagogues,” The New York Times, 13 July 1982.
  • Schlesinger, Arthur. The Age of Upheaval, 1960.
  • Smith, Geoffrey. American Counter-Subversives, the New Deal, and the Coming of World War II, 1973.
  • Tull, Charles. Father Coughlin and the New Deal, 1965.
  • Warren, Donald. Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, The Father of Hate Radio, 1996.


   1. Maier, Thomas. The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings (2003) pp 103-107

   2. Smith, Amanda, Hostage to Fortune.(2002) pp 122, 171, 379, 502; Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest (1984), p 127; Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion (1995) pp 109, 123

   3. Kazin, p 109

   4. Kazin, p 112

   5. New York Times, 22 January 1940

   6. Marcus, pp 173-177

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