Tag Archives: cotton

The Salvation of Your Soil

The Missionary in Cottonland

President FDR warns farmers of planting too much and ruining the arable land.

John F. Knott was born in Austria in in 1878 and emigrated in Iowa with his mother at the age of five. Hired as a cartoonist, Knott began working for the Dallas Morning News in 1905. Knott is famous for his character “Old Man Texas,” a proponent for transparency, capitalism, low taxes, and property rights. His cartoons became popular during World War I and historians believe his cartoons boosted the sales of Liberty Bonds. His cartoons have been reprinted in various magazines and newspapers since their original publication.

The cartoon that is displayed above is a depiction of the “Old Man Texas” character as a rural farmer in Texas. The setting is very rural and is clearly on the fencing line of a Texas farm or ranch. The character is hunched over reading a letter being held by a government man in a suit who is standing on the other side of a barbed wire fence. The cartoon is called “The Missionary in Cottonland,” referring to the man in the suit’s persuasive nature. The letter he is holding states, “The salvation of your soil and income depends on moderation in cotton planting – Join the co-operative soil conservation movement.” The letter is referring to the conservation movement started by President Roosevelt. The government man is urging the farmer to slow down his production of cotton (The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt).

At the time the cartoon was drawn the Texas cotton industry was booming. Agriculture and cotton farming had expanded from Central Texas to the Gulf Coast, and had steadily moved north. A small drought had begun in North Texas and there was fear of over-planting. Cotton is the most-drought resistant crop, so farmers felt inclined to switch from crops such as corn. Roosevelt feared that an increase in the acreage of cotton would increase supply too far, ultimately causing a significant drop in price. The cotton industry in the United State was already struggling because of the mass production in countries such as Brazil, Egypt, India, Sudan, Argentina, and Russia (Britton, Elliot).

Knott is suggesting that Texas farmers follow Roosevelt’s suggestions and switch to crops such a feed. On the side of the cartoon he writes a short column, and at the end wrote, “These foreigners got the jump on our farmers during the last few years and last season they supplied 14,222,200 bales of the world’s cotton consumption of 25,428,000. The United States supplied only 11,205,000 bales. Farmers should take a hint from these figures” (Roosevelt Warns Farmers). The direct language from Knott makes it clear that he strongly encourages that the spread of cotton acreage come to a stop. He uses two main arguments in his writing to support his claim. The first is that the environment and soil must be conserved or there will be no opportunity for future agriculture. The second is that the United States cotton industry is being trumped by foreign competition, and it would be beneficial for farmers to make the switch to other products and forms of agriculture.

Although both Roosevelt and Knott’s advice for farmers was clear, individuals could not turn away from short-term profit. By the 1920s three quarters of individuals working in agriculture were on cotton farms (Britton, Elliot). The United States cotton industry hit a crisis in the early 1920s. The entire industry saw a collapse due to overproduction and a widespread pest that destroyed certain strains of cotton. The introduction of man-made fibers also hurt the industry. By 1944, the first crop of cotton to be completely planted and harvested by machinery had been produced, marking the end of cotton farming boom (Britton, Elliot).

Knott’s cartoon represents the struggles agriculture has with the markets they belong to, and the constant battle with government institutions. As traditional farming has declined over the past century, this battle has become even more prevalent. Environmental concerns have also become an issue as the climate change narrative becomes more relevant. There is a connection between agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century and current times because of the continuing struggle for the industry. The solution to one problem is followed by an additional hurdle that must be passed. The industry is often glorified, and met with description such as “the backbone of our nation,” however there has recently been a lack of glory and benefit. The contemporary cartoon in my next blog post, entitled The Drought in California, regarding the recent devastating droughts in California and how they have effected modern farmers, will display how the struggles for the American farmer are just as real as they were when cotton used to be “king.”

Citations:

Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Elliott, Fred c. and Miller, e. a. “Cotton Culture.” Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Elliott, Fred c. and Miller, e. a. n.p., 11 June 2010. web. 03 May 2017.

“The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.” U.S. Department of the Interior. N.p., 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 3 May 2017.

Knott, John. “The Missionary in Cottonland.” The Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1936.

“Roosevelt Warns Farmers.” The Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1936.

 


Roosevelt’s Cotton Tariff

A good customer threatens to walk out

A Good Customer Threatens to Walk Out is a political cartoon by John Knott seeking to give immediacy and perspective to the problem of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s new tariff on cotton goods during a fragile time in the history of the United States of America: The Great Depression. The cartoon depicts the two parties affected by the tariff – The Japanese and American textile departments. Although the “Raw Cotton for Export” is plentiful, and “Japan’s Textile Industry” is readily available, trade cannot occur because of the piece of paper that is sitting between the Japanese and American characters – the tariff on Japan’s cotton goods. The editorial accompanying this cartoon, “Cotton Blunder,” tells the story that explains the visible tension in the scene. Effective June 20th, 1936, President Roosevelt decided to raise taxes on Japanese cotton by 42 per cent. “The new tariff action will give [Japan] an excuse to retaliate by buying less raw cotton from America and more from other countries” (“Cotton Blunder” 9). Although Roosevelt was trying to help American textile companies by placing a tariff on Japanese imported textiles, it only angered Japan and threatened to perpetuate the Great Depression even further due to its implications.

After the devastating stock market crash of 1929, America’s economy had started a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral. Herbert Hoover was the standing president at the time, and although it was not his fault the American economy had crashed, it was his fault it had gotten worse. One of the worst decisions he made as president was passing the notorious “Smoot-Hawley” Tariff Act which imposed 20,000 record-high taxes on imported goods. As if facing increased inflation and skyrocketing prices for common goods was not bad enough, now people were expected to pay extra money for foreign goods (Henderson). Though it was supposed to stimulate domestic economy, it only closed the metaphorical Pandora’s box of American economics before hope could escape. This tariff hurt other nations’ economies as well, since the U.S. was previously a prominent trade partner for many countries. Now, however, their goods were not selling in the U.S. so the immediate reaction from affected countries was to enact tariffs of their own in response. Consequentially, the “Smoot-Hawley” Tariff Act set off a chain of trade blockades in the global marketplace until the world had become divided into economic blocks; effectively making the Great Depression a worldwide event.

The “Smoot-Hawley” Tariff Act was not only the downfall of the Herbert Hoover administration; it was also a catalyst for the rise of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. In his campaign for president, FDR told the American people that he would lower tariffs during his presidency. True to his word, after he was elected, FDR passed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act in 1934. (Koyama) This act allowed Roosevelt to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements with other nations. However, in 1936, Roosevelt was faced with a dilemma: Northern American textile companies were pushing for government intervention in their competition with the increasingly successful Japanese textile market. “The immediate effects of this tremendous increase in imports from Japan, irrespective of the relation of their total volume to the total American production and consumption, were the ever-present threat to the American price structure and the resultant uncertainty and instability which had marked the American market since the influx began” (Murchison 273). But as wary as Roosevelt was about this problem of a weakened domestic industry, he was also reserved about implementing tariffs. He sought a gentleman’s agreement with Japan to set a quota that would limit shipments to about 45,000,000 square yards of cotton annually in order to regulate the influx of foreign goods. Unfortunately, talks for this agreement suddenly collapsed in May, and as a result, Roosevelt passed a 42% tariff on Japanese cotton goods.

Textile interests expressed satisfaction today over the president’s proclamation raising tariff walls in an effort to halt a sharp increase in shipments of cotton cloth from Japan to this country. President Roosevelt acted after the tariff commission reported importations of Japanese cotton goods rose rapidly during the first quarter of this year following failure to effect a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the island empire to restrict cotton textile exports to the United States. By proclamation issued yesterday under the 1930 flexible tariff act, the president increased tariffs approximately 42%, effective June 20. The higher rates will apply to the types of cotton cloth of which Japan supplies about 90% of this country’s imports, the remainder coming from Great Britain and Switzerland. The proclamation followed recommendations of the tariff commission, which investigated costs of domestic and foreign cotton cloths last year. (Tariff Hiked on Japanese Cotton Goods)

This article came out about the same time that the Dallas Morning News editorial came out. As Knott’s cartoon points out, southern cotton producers and middle men had benefitted from Japan’s increasing presence in the marketplace since Japan bought raw cotton from American manufacturers; a fact overlooked by the Roosevelt administration when making the decision to implant the tariff. In trying to stimulate the northern cotton textile companies, he effectively killed southern ones. This wasn’t the only problem Roosevelt now faced; he had also started a trade war with the Japanese. There are two ways they could retaliate now; either by implementing a counter-tariff on American goods in Japan, or by simply halting trade with the U.S. therefore Japan appears to be an unhappy customer in the cartoon, verbally threatening to take his trading business elsewhere. A frightened Uncle Sam is seen to the right, frantically asking for someone to call for Mr. Hull, the current secretary of state. After this cartoon was published, it was Mr. Hull that, with cooperation from the Japanese Embassy at Washington, could peacefully end this potentially disastrous tariff (Woolner).

This cartoon is comedic due to its use of visual humor. The Japanese man appears angry, slamming his fist on the counter, anyone’s natural response upon learning that they have been betrayed. The way the man is drawn is also a source of humor, since features like big teeth and large, circular glasses give a stereotypical American view of the Japanese at that time.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a big mistake by raising tariffs; a mistake that he should have avoided after seeing the negative effects raising tariffs had on the country under Herbert Hoover’s administration. He would have started a trade war with Japan and worsened the Great Depression if not for the efforts of the secretary of state at that time, Cordell Hull. In the end, Japan and America made a compromise in trade and America survived this “cotton blunder.” The lesson learned was that what may be a good idea in theory can backfire when a president’s vision fails to reach further than his own borders.

Bibliography

Balio, Tino. “Surviving the Great Depression.” Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. Ed. Charles Harpole. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993. 13-36. History of the American Cinema 5. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Berglund, Abraham. “The Tariff Act of 1930.” The American Economic Review, vol. 20, no. 3, 1930, pp. 467–479.

“Cotton Blunder.” The Dallas Morning News 26 May 1936: 2. Print.

Henderson, David R. “Hoover’s Economic Policies.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2008. Print.

Koyama, Kumiko. “The Passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act: Why Did the President Sign the Bill?” Journal of Policy History 21.2 (2009): 163–186. Web.

Murchison, Claudius T. “American-Japanese Cotton Goods Agreement.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 2, no. 4, 1938, pp. 272–277.

“Tariff Hiked On Japanese Goods.” Newspapers.com. The Lincoln Star, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Woolner, David B. “Hull, Cordell.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 485-486. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Zeiler, Thomas W. “Tariff Policy.” Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. Ed. Richard Dean Burns, Alexander DeConde, and Fredrik Logevall. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002. 531-546. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Slavery Must Be Abolished

farmer labeled "The South" standing in a barren field chaned to a bail of cotton.
Cartoon by John Knott depicts farmer in a barren field, chained to a bale of cotton.

 

Slavery Must Be Abolished

John F. Knott- August 27, 1931

This cartoon published in August of 1931, is a raw depiction of a typical southern cotton farmer’s situation during the Great Depression. During the Great Depression era, before President FDR or his New Deal, little was being done to help cotton farmers handle the struggling market. The constant production of cotton at high rates caused the cost of the crop to drastically drop when the Great Depression hit, as consumer demand for these products fell. Farmers were left with copious amounts of unwanted crop that they could not get rid of. At the time, Southern leaders agreed the solution was to diminish cotton acreage, as to reduce the ample supply and therefore raise the market value of the crop. Texas proposed the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931 (TCACL) as the remedy to the cotton problem, and as an example for other Southern states. However, unlike President Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), passed in 1933, the TCACL did not directly offer subsidies to the farmers. Rather, it fined them if they overproduced under the provisions of the law (Jasinski). Knott compares these issues for farmers to the issues slaves had seventy years before with through his cartoon, “Slavery Must Be Abolished.”

The article that accompanies this cartoon, “He Owes Too Much Now,” explains the situation and relationship between the banks and the farmers of this cotton issue as well as sharing the author’s issues with the proposed solution. The article highlights that banks in Texas were not able to finance the large scale reduction of crop production for farms. Big banks were trying to keep a large supply of money in depositories in case of emergencies, and small banks had loaned out far too much to “take on a heavy line of credit” with the cotton industry (“He Owes Too Much Now”). After not receiving financial help from the government and being unable to borrow any more money from private investors such as banks, farmers were forced to sell their farms and lay off workers, including their tenants. Herbert Hoover, the president at the time, attempted to help with the issue by establishing the Federal Farm Board to “supervise agricultural cutbacks and levy a special tax” (Kentleton).  Despite Hoover’s endeavors, many felt he was not doing enough to affect much change in the market, typical of his laissez-faire approach to economics (Baughman).

The humor in this cartoon comes from the comparison of the struggles of 1930’s southern farmers with cotton, to the plight of African slaves to their slave owners in America up to the Civil War. The cartoon depicts an elderly man who is identified as “The South” by the writing on his shoulder. It is easy to surmise that he is a farmer by the hoe in his hands, the clothes he is wearing and the barren field he is standing in, specific characteristics of agricultural life during that time period. Knott uses the old man to represent southern farmers and the barren field he is in represents the mandated curtailing of cotton production to reduce the surplus that has slashed the market value. He also shows the farmer chained by the ankle to a bail of cotton, illustrating a metaphor for the fiscal issues southern farms faced with the surplus of their crop. The strongest factor of the humor of the cartoon is easily the title, where Knott points out the ironic parallel between the relationships of Great Depression farmers to their cotton, and pre-Civil War slaves to farmers/plantation owners. The fact that these farmers who are now slaves of their crops were generally the same people that participated in slave culture some seventy-plus years before creates the humor and apathetic message Knott wanted to portray.

Farmers in the south faced a tough situation throughout the Great Depression. Many were forced to sell their land and move, either to support their families or because banks would foreclose on their property. Knott’s cartoon “Slavery Must Be Abolished” creates an accurate depiction of the condition of these farmers.  These families had so much invested in cotton as their livelihood, the market crash forced them to cling to whatever assets they had remaining. The farmers were bound to their way of life, and needed to bare through the painful remedy of withholding supply if they wanted any chance of recuperating their businesses.

 

Works Cited

Author Not Listed. “He Owes Too Much Now.” Dallas Morning News. 27 Aug. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015

Baughman, Judith S. “The Farm Crisis.” American Decades. Ed. et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Fred C. Elliott, and E. A. Miller, “COTTON CULTURE,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 02, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Jasinski, Laurie E. “TEXAS COTTON ACREAGE CONTROL LAW OF 1931-32,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 02, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 4, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Kentleton, John. “Success or failure? Herbert Hoover’s presidency: he sent the troops against the bonus marchers and gave his name to a shantytown in Washington, but has history been fair to President Hoover?” Modern History Review 14.4 (2003): 7+. General OneFile. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John F. “Slavery Must Be Abolished.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 27 Aug. 1931: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 01 Nov.2015