Oral History Interview with Judge Marvin Jones
Member of U.S. House of Representatives (from Texas), 1917-40; Judge, U.S. Court of Claims, 1940-43; U.S. War Food Administrator, 1943-45 (on leave from U.S. Court of Claims); Chief Justice, U.S. Court of Claims, 1947-64; and Senior Judge, 1964 to the present.
April 3, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Jones Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened May, 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Jones Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Judge Marvin Jones
April 3, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Judge, before we get into the days of the War Food Administration and Mr. Truman's administration, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where and when were you born?
JONES: I was born in the country, on a farm, about ten miles south of Gainesville, Texas on February 26, 1884; I believe that's the date. I grew up on the farm, went to country school, one room schoolhouse, and I took an examination for a teacher's certificate when I was sixteen
years old and passed it and was given a certificate to teach in the state; but the trustees would take one look at me and say, "You are too young to manage our school." I taught school one year when I was only about eighteen or nineteen years old.
HESS: What grades did you teach?
JONES: There were no grades. I just taught a one room country school one year at Elm Grove. I was a tenant farmer one year, growing both wheat and cotton. Father had eleven children, nine of them lived to adulthood. He wasn't able to send us to college on the farm prices of those days.
I followed a schoolteacher out to Miami, Texas, in the Panhandle of Texas, in 1901. I was very fond of the teacher and went to school out there a year in a school that was
called Miami College. It was really a good high school. I was graduated from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. That's the predecessor of Southern Methodist University. I finished a four-year college course there in three years. I worked my way through school and paid my own expenses. I won the Commencement Debate at Southwestern, which was regarded as the school event of the year.
I then entered the law school at the University of Texas. I took a three year law course there in two years, and was the second man in the class, and was appointed one of the three quizmasters. We conducted weekly quizzes and graded papers for the weekly quizzes. I won an oratorical prize -- a gold watch.
In 1908 I located in Amarillo, Texas for the practice of my chosen profession. I practiced law there seven years. I was chosen by the
Court of Civil Appeals as Chairman of the Board of Legal Examiners for the people who wanted to practice law in the sixty-nine counties of the Court of Appeals District.
I had wanted to get into politics from the time that I can first remember. I ran for Congress in 1916. The sitting man was John H. Stephens of Vernon, Texas. There were fifty-three counties in the 13th Congressional District which was 20 percent larger than the State of Ohio and larger than any state east of the Mississippi except Georgia. Georgia had fifty-nine thousand, and Ohio had forty-three thousand square miles.
HESS: Was that all of the Texas Panhandle?
JONES: All the Texas Panhandle and went down into North Texas -- it had been gerrymandered.
HESS: How far down did they go?
JONES: They went down within thirty-five miles of Dallas, Cook, Denton, Wise, Montague -- a shoestring district. It was more than 400 miles long.
HESS: What was the population back then? Do you recall?
JONES: There hadn't been a redistricting for twenty years and they had at that time nearly seven hundred thousand population. The Legislature had difficulties in redistricting the large state. I knew they would redistrict soon. I thought it was a good time to run. A whole group of men I knew were planning to run as soon as there was a redistricting act.
I announced in 1916, and two other men announced. One was a rich man, Reuben Ellerd. I carried all but five of the counties. I really worked at it. I bought a Model T and I drove
it like the wind, worked day and night, wore myself out, but I was elected.
HESS: Did the other men work as hard as you did?
JONES: No, they didn't. They spent more money. One of them didn't work anything like as hard and the other one was a great big man, physically -- he was also a great talker. He spent a lot of money, a lot of money for those days, and I didn't have it to spend, so I used his lavish expenditure of money as my text. I said it's his money, he has a right to spend it in any way he wishes.
We didn't have loud speakers much in those days. There were no movies -- no radios. People came to public speaking in that era. I would say, "It's Mr. Ellerd's money. I'm not criticizing his spending, but," I said, "I want to talk to you about approving that lavish
expenditure of money in seeking public office. If you want to close the door of opportunity to every young man in the country, this is the way to do it. In England, the men with money are in the House of Lords. They don't get any salary. The body has only rich men, and much of the legislation for the people is killed in the House of Lords because they don't understand the needs of average people. Do you want to make a House of Lords out of the .American Congress?"
I would see a boy standing by his dad, or a man with a boy in his arms. I would look at the man with the boy standing by him and I would say, "Before you scratch my name from the ticket on July 22, I want you to take that blue eyed boy (or brown eyed boy), in your arms and say, 'Son, I voted today to close the door of opportunity in your face. I love you, but
this is what I decided I had better do."' I believe that argument was very effective.
HESS: Do you think that swung some votes?
JONES: I think it helped. Anyhow, I saw a great many people personally. That was the most effective way in those days.
I would like to tell you one incident that happened that was published all over the state later. They had a picnic reunion at Matador, Texas. It is right out on the prairie and there wasn't any shade. They had an arbor built covered with gunny sack material -- the only shade on the grounds. There were some mesquite trees, but it was summertime and dry and those mesquite trees simply stopped the breeze and didn't stop the sun.
Everybody came into that arbor bringing
their children. The arbor was oblong with the speaker's stand on one side. A big mechanical merry-go-round was located on the opposite side from the speaker's stand. It produced the most mechanical music I ever heard, and was pulled by two small mules. There were not many people riding on it, mostly the youngsters. Very few could hear the speaker. The women would let the children blow up the singing balloons. Dr. Samuel Brooks, President of Baylor University was running for the Senate. He was a magnificent speaker. I admired him very much. He spoke at 11 o'clock and very few could hear him.
HESS: Drowned out by the merry-go-round?
JONES: Yes, drowned out by the merry-go-round. Mr. Ellert and I spoke in the afternoon. By agreement, we would alternate in speaking
that day -- he spoke first. Mr. Ellerd was the rich man, a great big husky fellow, and he puffed and blew and hollered and just wore his voice out. I was sitting there with the chairman whom I had known in school, Wendel Johnson; and I said, "What do you think that fellow makes on that clanking merry-go-round?"
He said, "Not very much, about eight or ten children are riding on it."
I said, "If you can hire him to break down for about three dollars when I start speaking, I think it'd be a good investment."
He says, "That's a good idea." He slipped out and went around. He came back grinning. I didn't think he had had time to get back. He said, "I got him for two."
HESS: He went cheap didn't he?
JONES: Yes. I think he wanted to rest his mules
anyway. When I started speaking I had a magnificent hearing of country people. The folks stopped all the talk, and I had a wonderful hearing before the big crowd and a lot of handshaking followed. After it was over I met Mr. Ellerd, my adversary, out on the grounds. He said, "You're the luckiest damn man I ever saw. That machine broke down just after you started speaking."
I said, "Yes, I guess I was lucky, wasn't I?"
I have a picture of that merry-go-round. The newspaper had coincidently take a picture of that whole contraption at that time. Years later when the story was published over the state, Douglas Meador sent me a clipping which I have in my files.
You may not want to use it and may take it out if you wish.
HESS: It's all right.
JONES: Anyhow, I came to Congress.
HESS: One thing on that: What was your first impression of Washington when you came here?
JONES: I had never been east of the Mississippi River and they had told me when I was running, this wealthy man would say, "This is no time to send a boy to Congress. The war was over in Europe, and sparks were flying all around in 1916. He said, "Why, if you elect him, he can't find his way to Washington."
I just laughed and said, "He may be right, but," I said, "if you elect me, I'll get somebody to show me if necessary. I'll get there." It amused people.
Anyhow, when I first came to Washington I had thought everybody would be dignified. I
went to the gallery. I didn't know I had the right as a member-elect to go on the floor. Sam Rayburn had the same experience four years before. He and Hatton Sumners stayed up in the gallery at first. We were not told until after we arrived that members-elect had the privilege of the floor. Hatton Sumners laughed in telling me later that he was afraid he would be arrested if he got in the wrong place.
Anyhow, I then went on the floor and I was shown great interest by Champ Clark who was Speaker. He helped me a great deal as he did all the youngsters. You couldn't have beaten him for a Speaker in a thousand years. He left the Speaker's stand and came down the aisle. I thought he was going to the cloakroom. Instead, he sat down by me and began talking about as follows:
"The first few months you are here you won't have to do much, even if you may be a member of an important committee. I suggest that you sit here and take a note every time a point of order is made. Then go over that night and take the ten volumes of House Precedents which are furnished every new member, and read all the decisions on that point, and," he added, "in a few months, you'll know more about the rules of the House than anyone except about five or six members who make a specialty of mastering the rules."
That was good help and I did just that. Soon, with the exceptions he mentioned, I knew as much about parliamentary procedure as anyone in the House. I was able to secure a lot of amendments adopted during the twenties. I figured out several shortcuts that later became House procedure. Any rate, then when I became Chairman of
the House Committee on Agriculture in '31, the second two years of Hoover's administration, I found that knowledge of the rules helped exceedingly during the succeeding ten years. I handled a great deal of the Roosevelt legislation. In fact, more than any other one person.
HESS: What was that legislation?
JONES: Here is a list of the major bills I handled during my period as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture.
(1) The Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 -- passed House first week of session.
(2) The Emergency Farm Mortgage Refinancing Act -- early 1933.
(3) The Farm Credit Administration Act, passed within the first 30 days.
(4) The Cattle Purchase Act -- to purchase cull
cattle -- and distribute the meat on relief through local packing arrangement using relief labor.
(5) The Resettlement Act -- to finance and furnish work on those out of employment.
(6) The Soil Conservation and Rebuilding Act -- established in the Department of Agriculture.
(7) The Commodity Exchange legislation -- to regulate exchanges dealing in farm commodities.
(8) Tenant Home Purchase Act -- to finance purchase of homes by worthy tenants.
(9) Temporary Farm Act -- to replace farm program invalidated by the Supreme Court June 6, 1933.
(10) The Jones-Costigan Sugar Act.
(11) The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 -- covering a wide field of activity -- in producing
and marketing farm products at home and abroad including research, correcting freight rate discrimination and research laboratories.
(12) Establishing marketing agreements -- national and regional -- applying to all kinds of perishable commodities.
(I have eleven presidential pens with which these bills were signed. They are in the Panhandle Historical building on display in Canyon, Texas. This was at a time when they did not give them away by the bushel -- only one to the chairman of the House and Senate Committees which handled a bill.)
The first thing I put through was the legislation to enact a farm bill -- the AAA. President-elect Roosevelt phoned me from Warm Springs, Georgia and said that the farms were being foreclosed by the thousands, and he said, "I
don't care who gets the credit. I'm sending Henry Morgenthau, Henry Wallace, and Rex Tugwell and others to Washington. I want you to sit down with them and write a farm bill. Put it through at this Lame Duck Session, if possible."
We took most of what I had already written. We worked all morning, and after a short lunch began again. About 3 o'clock Henry Morgenthau called me into an adjoining room and said to me, "I am compelled to leave for New York. I will see the President this afternoon. I see that you know more about this subject than all these fellows together." And he said, "And I'm going to tell the President so." He may have been flattering me.
It was an evenly divided party, and I had a terrific time, but I finally secured its passage at that evenly divided session.
HESS: What was your earliest piece of legislation?
JONES: Away back in the early part of my service, I secured the passage of a number of amendments, starting right after the First World War. During and after World War I the military