Tag Archives: Hull

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.

They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying

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“They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” comments on pre-World War II interactions between Europe and Secretary of the State Cornell Hull.

 

They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying

John Francis Knott — March 1937

Distinguished through his thought-provoking ideas and unique artistic abilities, John Francis Knott was a political cartoonist for the Dallas Morning News who illustrated more than 15,000 cartoons in his 50-year career. His work throughout the early 20th century focused much on presidential campaigns and wars of the time and attracted national and international attention. His cartoon “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying”, published on March 22, 1937 equally centralized around the upcoming World War and America and Europe’s atypical relationship leading up to it.

Characterized by historians as a time of political and economic unrest, the 1930s was turbulent for nations worldwide. Coming out of the midst of the Great Depression, the United States was slowly starting to become financially stable again under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership. Europe on the other hand became plagued with political crisis, with Adolf Hitler making plans to invade parts of Europe and Germany aligning itself with other strong nations, proving that a war was likely imminent. In an attempt to avoid an international feud, the United States, among other nations, called for a peaceful meeting to discuss the issues and try to extinguish tensions. This attempt is essentially what Knott illustrates in his cartoon.

“They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” depicts two characters: a woman holding cannons, muskets, and other miscellaneous weaponry with the word “Europe” on her chest and a man in a car with “Good Neighbor Hull” on it asking the woman if she “want[s] a ride.” The woman in this piece clearly represents the nation of Europe preparing for war with Germany and the Axis Powers. The man is noted to be Cordell Hull, American politician and Secretary of State to Roosevelt who strongly advocated for the meeting between nations. Although the European people were in favor of peace, the men in power were not heeding Hull’s please for compromise. In the background of the illustration are two signs reading “Road to World Peace” and “International Trade” which Hull is gesturing towards as if suggesting this is where he plans to take the woman on the car ride.

The humor behind the illustration is derived from the criticisms of how both American leaders such as Hull and the European nations handled the proposition to meet peacefully. Specifically in the cartoon, Knott ridiculously has Hull offer to give Europe or European leaders a ride to the conference. Equally, signs advertising the benefits of meeting happen to line the road which Hull plans to take. Paradoxically, Knott unrealistically has the European woman carrying heaps of advanced weaponry and warfare machinery through the streets. Overall, the cartoon is Knott’s humorous depiction of Secretary of State Hull’s overt attempt to ask Europe for a meeting to discuss the issues at hand.

In a companion piece published alongside “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” entitled “Advice to Europe” Hull’s relationship and overall influence over European nations is better exemplified. The article touches on Europe’s hesitancy on taking advice from “a young upstart” like the United States, despite America’s wealth and political establishment. Ultimately, Europe considers aggression the only practical solution despite Hull’s or other nation’s appeals to handle the issue in a peaceful manner. The article even goes on to say that even someone with more power and authority than Hull would likely have an extremely difficult time in preventing the altercation from being resolved through violence or force.

Essentially, “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying” by John Francis Knott humorously comments on the Secretary of State Cornell Hull’s proposition to Europe to settle differences in a peaceful meeting to avoid an international war. Although Hull’s proposal failed, Knott permanently etched the idea into history with his cartoon and remarked on the tense and confusing times leading up to the Second World War.

 

Works Cited:

“Cordell Hull.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Knott, John F. “They Can’t Put Him in Jail for Trying”. Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 22 March 1937: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Smitha, Frank E. “Crisis and War in Europe, 1937 to 1940.” Crisis and War in Europe, 1937 to 1940. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Woolner, Diane. “Repeating Our Mistakes: The “Roosevelt Recession” and the Danger of Austerity.” Roosevelt Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.