1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. Judge Marvin Jones Oral History Interview, May 8, 1970

Judge Marvin Jones Oral History Interview, May 8, 1970

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.

Washington, D.C.
May 8, 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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Jones Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
Judge Marvin Jones

Washington, D.C.
May 8, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Judge, to begin this morning, let's start with a question that I found in a book by Allen Matusow, and his book is entitled Farm Policies and Politics in the Truman Years. And, according to him, the War Food Administration used a "bare-shelves" policy near the end of the war as an attempt to prevent a postwar surplus of food by lowering production goals and by dropping stockpiling for relief, so that American civilians would eat up food stocks that seemed to threaten future markets. And he thinks that in the face of the worldwide food shortages following the war, that that policy was a mistake.

JONES: Well, I'll tell you. He's mistaken in the first place about our having a "bare-shelves" policy. We never at any time during World War II had any such thing as a "bare-shelves"


policy. Let me contrast the differences between conditions in the two wars.

I was here in World War I, and when the World War ended, World War I cotton prices were about forty cents per pound, and they remained that for a very short period, and then they dropped first to twenty cents, then to ten cents, and then to six cents per pound. And then Congress was reluctant to appropriate the big sums even though they might be needed for shipments abroad, and they refused to do so. Wheat went from a dollar and a quarter a bushel down to as little as twenty cents a bushel.

HESS: Was that because of oversupply?

JONES: It was because an oversupply developed after World War I. In late 1918 when the war was over, Congress began to tighten up


on the shipments abroad trying to get back on a pay-as-you-go basis. We had vast expenditures during the war, and we had great problems following World War I, that's when the farm problem got to be so serious, because we had these vast accumulations of various farm commodities and they had gone down in price.

In World War II the problem was different. Congress had guaranteed that farm prices would be supported at the war level for two years after the war -- so there was no danger of major farm price level falling for at least two years, so our problem was different.

We had, at the time during latter part of World War II when this policy came up -- we had some division among our folks about it, but one or two of them who had dealt with the farm problem said we have all these commodities we had in big storage, but I called their


attention to the law guaranteeing farm prices, so we didn't have any "bare-shelf" policy at all in World War II.

In World War I we had a supply of wheat that was suited to war times. It wasn't certain that we would be able to get Congress to make the provision for sustaining farm prices after the World War I fighting was over.

We had to fight for years. Coolidge vetoed two of the bills intended by its authors to take care of the farm situation that had developed. And all through the twenties the committee was trying to get the farm program, and finally, a program was prepared during the twenties. The details of the two bills vetoed by President Coolidge will be told later.

Mr. Hoover, on advice of his Representative in the House, Franklin Fort of New Jersey,


then took all of the teeth out of the bill's regulating features. The bill authorized a Farm Board to buy the surplus at a flooring or support price. President Hoover had pulled all of the safeguards out of the original bill, and then McNary-Haugen asked that it be passed as changed. The philosophy of the Farm Board bill was, "We will buy products at a support price above the market and hold them for a higher price."

The thing just collapsed. Mr. Hoover appointed a Board headed by Alexander Legge. It was called the Federal Farm Board. Alexander Legge, in the best of faith, left a fifty thousand dollar job because he thought he could help adjust this farm policy and render a public service.

The Board bought cotton and bought wheat above the market price. I had a talk with Mr.


Legge afterward, and he said, "I don't understand where all this wheat came from." When we began to buy wheat, it came out from barns, granaries, elevators, and from everywhere. We had put a flooring under the price -- we would buy wheat at a dollar and sixteen cents a bushel when it was selling down to -- all the way from sixty to eighty cents, and we didn't have any storage for it. We were swamped.

As a matter of fact, when the New Deal came in we simply gave away to the American Red Cross several hundred thousand bales of cotton that had been purchased by the Farm Board. In fact, more than a million bales of cotton were held on which the Government took a loss. We gave several hundred million bushels of wheat to the American Red Cross.

None of our group in World War II argued that we wanted to have a "bare-shelves" policy. They all wanted a supply, a sufficient supply,


to avoid a loss, and then we could go along with full production because we are equipped with the assured price to produce more food, and were producing more food than had ever been produced in this or any other country. One or two had argued that the existing law should be kept as a stand-by, but not one of them argued for anything approximating a bare-shelves or reduction policy.

Mr. Hoover's administration was buying in 1929 and 1930 without any regulation at all, just endlessly without any outlet or market. The Farm Board collapsed in 1930 and the whole country collapsed. The farmers couldn't produce at the low price. The whole economy stalled on dead center; it broke banks, it broke everything else. Millions of hungry people were shuffling in the bread lines, hopeless, helpless, and despairing.


But the guarantee that Congress had enacted at the time authority was granted to put a ceiling on prices assured farm support prices for a period of two years following the first of January following a declaration of the end of the war. So there was no occasion to have any fear of a price collapse following World War II.

Some of these people have written who don't know about a situation, they didn't understand. I have lived through both World Wars and have seen these problems and have seen the great losses the Government took in trying to get rid of surpluses. Some of our people were talking that when I came into War Food. I immediately said, "We're just going to do away with controls and produce all the food we can as long as this war lasts." And we produced at all times all the food we could possibly produce. No production controls would


be needed during the war.

HESS: Production control?

JONES: No production control during the war. The law was still in the books, but I had authority to and I did suspend any restrictions during the war. I said, "We are simply going to get all the food production possible until the war ends. At that time my authority will end, but that will be the rule while my authority lasts. I can't repeal a law, but the Congress has authorized suspension during the World War II."

Back in 1937, as chairman of the committee on agriculture, I was asked to handle a proposed sugar bill which proposed a reduction in the tariff on sugar and a processing fee on sugar produced in all the offshore sugar producing areas, as well as this country. The proceeds were to be paid to domestic producers if they would keep within their allotment.


Senator Robinson called me to his office in the Capitol. Cordell Hull, Rex Tugwell, and several others were present. I knew little about sugar and I so stated. I said, "It belongs to the Ways and Means Committee; it affects the tariff. Besides, I am already busy with other legislation."

"If I handle it," I said, "in the first place, I'm going to make all these offshore areas keep a six month's supply so there never will be a shortage of sugar. We can write that in the bill as a condition to their selling their quota; that is, if we are going to establish quotas at all."

Rex Tugwell said, "Oh, we can't do that."

And I said, "It's damn sure going to be in there if I handle the deal. I'm not going to have a shortage come up when my people are interested in cheap sugar."


I was assured, "You will be protected since we are going to reduce the tariff and we're not going to have the processing fee any higher than the reduction of the tariff." We're going to have a reduction of $2.12 per hundred pounds on the tariff on imported sugar. Cordell Hull was there and Senator [Joseph Taylor] Robinson and several others, all trying to manhandle me into handling this legislation if it took all morning. But he said, "I am perfectly willing to handle this if the President wants me to even though I think it should be handled by someone else, because I'm already swamped with other things up here." But I said, "I'm g