Father Coughlin Poster

Biography

Father Charles E. Coughlin was an ultra-conservative Catholic priest who was a major power in the US far-right-wing movement in the 1930s. His radio program was listened to by over 30 million Americans on Sunday afternoons, and in a 1934 national poll he was chosen as the second most popular and powerful man in the US, behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt (his arch-enemy). In 1935 he gave a speech against Roosevelt's New Deal at New York's Madison Square Garden that drew 20,000 attendees.

His hatred of Roosevelt got him into trouble on several occasions. He once called Roosevelt "the great liar and betrayer", and was forced by his bishop to apologize to Roosevelt for that remark. It wasn't long after that, however, that he referred to Roosevelt in a speech as "the Scab President". In 1936 Coughlin joined forces with two other prominent members in the right-wing movement, Gerald L.K. Smith and Dr. Francis Townsend to form the Union Party. Their presidential candidate, ex-Congressman William Lempke, received 900,000 votes.

His rising political power tended to make him think he could say and do anything, and during the campaign he began accusing Roosevelt of being in cahoots with "international Jewish bankers", and eventually his shrill, non-stop anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting resulted in his being condemned by the Catholic Layman's League as "cowardly and shameless". Nevertheless, his political movement, The National Union for Social Justice, had 8.5 million members and he was still a force to be reckoned with.

His power began to come to an end with the advent of World War II. In 1940 his superiors ordered him off the air, in response to a growing revulsion among the public at his vicious anti-Semitic tirades. In 1942 his magazine, "Social Justice", was banned by the U.S. government under wartime regulations as "a systematic and unscrupulous attack on the war effort" for Coughlin's unceasing attacks on Roosevelt and his "Jewish masters", an action that Coughlin attributed to "Jews, Communists and New Dealers".

Even after he was no longer a national figure, he continued to arouse controversy. In 1965 his parishioners complained to the Detroit Archdiocese that students in Coughlin's Catholic school in Royal Oaks, Michigan, were being indoctrinated in Coughlin's social and political beliefs by being forced to listen to his speeches about the "Jewish and Communist problem" over the school's public address system. He retired from active duty in 1966.