Coughlin, Charles E. (Charles Edward), 1891-1979Alternative names
Detroit area priest known for his opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal programs.
From the description of Charles E. Coughlin photograph collection. 1934-1936. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 85778938
Father Charles E. Coughlin was Roman Catholic priest, renowned as founder and pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan. Father Coughlin gained a wide following for his Sunday afternoon radio addresses on political and economic subjects. Coughlin was a vocal opponent of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
From the guide to the Charles E. Coughlin Sermons and Sunday Evening Radio Addresses, 1930-1940, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)
Priest and radio personality.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1891, Coughlin was a well-known radio personality of the 1930s who preached from the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, and on a radio show, the "Golden Hour of the Little Flower." His radio sermons denounced the political and economic failings of the United States and its banking system. He founded the National Union for Social Justice in 1935, which supported an increase in the money supply and the adoption of the silver standard. By the late 1930s, Coughlin's sermons grew anti-Semitic, expressing sympathy for the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Coughlin's bishop ordered him to cease all political activity and return to the work of a parish priest. He retired in 1966 from the Shrine of the Little Flower and passed away in 1979.
From the description of Father Charles E. Coughlin collection, 1932-1936. (University of South Florida). WorldCat record id: 707637274
Reverend Charles Edward Coughlin, radio orator, publisher of the magazine Social Justice, and head of the political organization, the National Union for Social Justice, was one of the most influential personalities to arise in America during the 1930s. His speeches and writings targeted the ills of socialism, communism, and capitalist indulgences, which Coughlin viewed as the impetuses for the economic and political crises of the time. Due to his ability to engage the American people, Coughlin rivaled Franklin D. Roosevelt in both popularity and influence. However, with the advent of World War II, his anti-Semitic remarks, isolationist stance, and bellicose tone, caused the federal government and Church superiors to silence him. Nevertheless, the evidence of Coughlin’s influence over the American people serves to represent the tenor and sentiments of this period.
Charles E. Coughlin was born in Hamilton, Ontario on October 25, 1891 to Thomas J. Coughlin, a Great Lakes stoker from Indiana, and to Amelia Mahoney Coughlin, a Canadian seamstress. Raised a Catholic, Coughlin attended St. Michael’s College in 1911 before studying for the priesthood at St. Basil’s Seminary. During his preparation, Coughlin was introduced to Pope Leo XIII encyclical, On the Condition of the Working Class (1891), which advocated for social justice rooted in Catholic thought, and for the eradication of both socialism and the excesses of capitalism. These ideas became the foundation for Coughlin’s later arguments against socialist and capitalist practices.
Upon ordination in 1916, Coughlin taught at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario until 1922. Then, he was assigned to a small parish in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was later placed at the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Michigan in 1926. He would serve this parish until his retirement in 1966.
The radio program that brought Fr. Coughlin to the national public stage began as a response to a Ku Klux Klan cross burning at the Little Flower Church. Coughlin believed that if he could explain Christian teachings to the local community, he could eliminate these types of incidents. His show first aired on October 3, 1926 and was designed to teach the Catholic faith to children. However, it soon attracted a broader audience, and CBS network decided to broadcast the program nationally in 1930.
With the spread of the Great Depression, Coughlin soon shifted the focus of his radio sermons to political and economic topics. The content of the shows centered on the evils of socialism, communism, the greed of capitalism, and the need for equalizing reforms. Appealing to the sentiments of the public, Coughlin’s fame spread. The House of Representatives came to recognize him as an expert on communism and invited Coughlin to address the Committee to Investigate Communist Activities. His position on these topics was further developed in the works, Christ or the Red Serpent (1930), and By the Sweat of Thy Brow (1931).
In 1931, Coughlin began to criticize the Hoover Administration for its failure to address the economic crisis, and CBS refused to renew his contract due to his inflammatory tone. Unhindered, Coughlin organized his own network that eventually grew to forty-seven stations with an estimated audience of 3.5 million people per week.
Coughlin's radio sermons supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, and advocated for nationalizing the gold standard, seizing federal control over the banking system, restructuring the Federal Reserve, and adopting a form of corporatism, analogous to the system found in fascist Italy. He cemented these ideas in the work, The New Deal in Money (1933). By 1934, Coughlin had a strong following of supporters which he organized into the political group, the National Union of Social Justice.
Despite Coughlin’s initial support of Roosevelt, he soon became disillusioned by the Roosevelt Administration’s policies, which he believed were paradoxically tainted by both international socialism and Wall Street capitalism. His radio show became increasingly bellicose in tone as he attacked Roosevelt’s policies.
The Roosevelt administration began to seek ways to reign in Coughlin, and Joseph Kennedy, Bishop Francis Spellman, and Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) were among Catholic leaders who looked towards the Vatican to stem Coughlin’s provocative remarks. However, because Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher supported Coughlin, the Vatican could not restrict him.
Coughlin became a political supporter of Huey Long’s 1935 campaign against Roosevelt. When Long was assassinated, Coughlin and The National Union of Social Justice became the center for the new Union Party, a political party with a strong base of support from mid-western nativists. The group ran a candidate against Roosevelt in the 1936 election, but they were largely defeated. In 1938, Coughlin changed the name of the National Union of Social Justice to the Christian Front.
From 1936 until 1941, Fr. Coughlin’s popularity and influence in America rivaled that of President Roosevelt. His weekly radio sermons promoted an isolationist foreign policy and Coughlin came to endorse the group, America First. Coughlin’s speeches directly appealed to the tenets of the time and played on the fears and concerns of the American people. Many of his supporters were among those who decried the Asylum Laws, which permitted Jewish refugees to enter America.
His program became increasingly anti-Semitic, and Coughlin blamed Jewish bankers for the Russian Revolution, Marxist atheism, the Great Depression, and for trying to bring America into a European war. In 1936, Coughlin began to publish the magazine, Social Justice, which frequently contained anti-Semitic rhetoric, including a copy of the fraudulent “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In addition, he voiced sympathy for Hitler and Mussolini, who he viewed as bulwarks against the Soviet Union’s spread of communism. At first Coughlin’s stance drew in substantial public approval, however, the changing international climate hampered his influence.
Starting in 1934, the Roosevelt Administration tried to restrict Coughlin on the radio, but even with new regulations to combat the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, Coughlin was able to circumvent many of these stipulations. However, after incendiary anti-Semitic speeches, many radio stations refused to broadcast his programs, while other networks mandated Coughlin follow pre-approved scripts.
In 1939, the Code Committee of the National Association of Broadcasting responded to the invasion of Poland by limiting radio shows that centered on controversial public issues. This regulation severely restricted the content of Coughlin’s shows.
Undeterred, Coughlin continued to print Social Justice to voice his opinions. This approach also met obstacles when in 1940, the FBI invaded a Christian Front branch in New York, and found a cache of weapons that were believed to be intended for use against Jews, communists, and congressmen. While Coughlin was not directly tied to this plot, his affiliation with the Christian Front damaged his reputation. Upon further investigation under the Espionage Act, Coughlin’s privilege to use the United States Post Office to deliver Social Justice was revoked.
The final blow to Coughlin’s influence came in 1942. Coughlin’s initial support for Hitler and Mussolini, coupled with his continued condemnation of the Soviet Union, America’s ally, and persistent push for isolationism, no longer represented the majority opinion. Viewed as a political liability, Archbishop of Detroit Edward Francis Mooney ordered Coughlin to abandon the airwaves, stop production of Social Justice, and return to his parish duties. Although Coughlin was forced to comply, he continued to write a number of pamphlets during the 1950s and 1960s in which he condemned communism.
Coughlin remained pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower until his retirement in 1966. After a series of health ailments, Father Charles E. Coughlin passed away in Bloomfield, Michigan on October 27, 1979.
1891 Oct 25:
Charles Edward Coughlin born to Thomas J. Coughlin and Amelia Mahoney Coughlin.
1911- 1916: Attends St. Basil's Seminary.
Ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood. Begins teaching at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario.
1922- 1926: Serves local parishes in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Assigned as pastor to the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Michigan.
1926 Oct 3:
First broadcast of Coughlin's radio show.
CBS network nationally broadcasts Coughlin's radio show. Christ or the Red Serpent published.
By the Sweat of Thy Brow published. Coughlin begins the Little Flower network after CBS does not renew contract.
The New Deal in Money published.
Establishes political organization, National Union of Social Justice.
Endorses Huey Long as presidential candidate.
National Union of Social Justice becomes center of the Union Party and runs William Lemke as presidential candidate. Begins publication of Social Justice magazine.
Changes National Union of Social Justice to the Christian Front. Social Justice prints "Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Code Committee of the National Association of Broadcasting (NAB) restricts radio programs, such as Coughlin's, which focus on controversial public issues.
FBI raids Christian Front branch in New York and finds cache of weapons, Coughlin not directly involved but implicated due to connections.
Investigations under the Espionage Act remove Social Justice's second class mailing privileges with the United States Post Office. Archbishop of Detroit Edward Francis Mooney forbids Coughlin to continue activities on the radio or with Social Justice.
Coughlin retires from position as pastor at the Shrine at the Church of the Little Flower.
Charles E. Coughlin dies from health related issues in Bloomfield, Michigan.
From the guide to the Social Justice collection, 1931-1969, (Phillips Memorial Library, Special and Archival Collections)
- Sermons, American
- Radio in religion
- United States (as recorded)
- United States (as recorded)