Coughlin, Charles Edward

   The man who became the “radio priest,” Charles Coughlin was born in Ontario, Canada. He was ordained as a priest in 1916, and in 1923 he moved to Detroit, Michigan, and in 1926 he established a parish, the Shrine of the Little Flower, where he remained the rest of his life. Coughlin began broadcasting his sermons in 1926, and his success led CBS radio to broadcast his hourly service every week from 1930 to 1931. When CBS failed to renew his contract, he established his own radio network.
   As the impact of the Great Depression grew, Coughlin, an outspoken critic of Herbert Hoover, began to attack bankers and financiers in his sermons and call for control of the money supply. He initially supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, but by 1934 he was becoming critical of the administration, even though he still said the people faced a choice of “Roosevelt or ruin.” But in November 1934 Coughlin established his own National Union for Social Justice, calling for the nationalization of banks and public utilities and fairer taxation, and he began to establish links with Huey Long and Dr. Francis Townsend. In May 1936, Coughlin, together with Long and Townsend’s successor, Gerald K. Smith, set up the Union Party with William Lemke as its presidential candidate, but following an abysmal performance that attracted only 900,000 votes, Coughlin disbanded his organizations and announced his retirement from politics. However, he still continued to express his views via the airwaves and in his publication Social Justice. He spoke and wrote in defense of Adolf Hitler and supported Nazi Germany in its opposition to the communist Soviet Union. He also appeared to be increasingly anti-Semitic in his views. He supported American isolationism and described Roosevelt as a “war monger.” His radio broadcasts were suspended in 1940, and in 1942 the Postal Service refused mailing rights for Social Justice. Denied a voice, Coughlin concentrated on his parish activities until his retirement in 1966.
   See also World War II.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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