Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Full Circle on Bankruptcy

On the brink of FDR's inauguration, straits were so desperate in Iowa as to provoke practices you won't find prescribed in any Bush bankruptcy bill:
The debt situation was becoming increasingly critical. In Iowa, the most heavily mortgaged state, nearly one-third of the value of farms was in thrall, mainly to banks and insurance companies. Sinking farm prices made it harder than ever to pay interest or taxes out of cash received for current production. With misfortune striking down the industrious equally with the idle and the incompetent, farmers grew increasingly determined not to surrender without a fight. They formed committees of action to resist tax sales and mortgage foreclosures -- unsmiling men, dressed in overalls or in corduroy, wearing old red or green sweaters, carrying clubs.

At Storm Lake, Iowa, farmers flourished a rope and threatened to hang a lawyer who was about to conduct a foreclosure. In Van Buren County, Iowa, Mrs. Otto Nau forced Sheriff Bostock off her farm at the point of a rifle. At Le Mars, five hundred men gathered in a sullen mob to watch the farm of John A. Johnson go on auction: when the agent for the New York Life Insurance company offered a sum less than the face value of the mortgage, people slapped and mauled him; a few shouted "Lynch him!" Outside of Pleasanton, Kansas, someone found the murdered body of a man who had just foreclosed on a five-hundred-acre farm. At Sidney, Nebraska, farm leaders threatened to march two hundred thousand debtors to the State Capitol at Lincoln and "tear it down" unless they got relief. At Malinta, Ohio, a noose hung ominously from Albert Roehl's barn to ward off outside bidders. In one bankruptcy proceeding after another, friends of the debtor, using unspoken intimidation to cut off other bids, bought back the property for a few cents and restored it to its owner.
[Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Age of Roosevelt:The Crisis of the Old Order, pp.459-460]

How many "thirds-of-value" is Congress "in thrall" mainly to banks and insurance companies today?

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