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Selected Papers of Homer Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, 1933-1939

By Carl Brent Swisher; Homer S. Cummings | Go to book overview

2. Gold Hoarding

[During the weeks preceding March 4, 1933, runs on the banks of the country had taken place and, in one state after another, they had been compelled to close their doors. In a mood of panic, depositors had demanded their deposits, often in gold or gold certificates, preferring to hoard their money rather than risk the custody of banks. On inauguration day, banks throughout the country were closed. The money crisis had to be met without delay. When the President had taken the oath of office and led the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, Attorney General Cummings left the throng for a law library and began the preparation of his first legal advice to the President.

The advice given culminated in the proclamation of March 6, 1933, prescribing a bank holiday throughout the country, and the call for a special session of Congress to act on this and other critical matters. The Emergency Banking Relief Act of March 9, 1933, in addition to providing specific banking regulations, approved and confirmed the steps previously taken, and delegated broad powers over the currency including the power to prohibit export or hoarding of gold or silver coin or currency. The cessation of efforts to take money from the banks and the return of gold already hoarded was necessary for the resumption of banking operations and the control of the currency. Executive orders prohibiting the hoarding of gold and gold certificates were issued.

The Department of Justice had the task of enforcing obedience to the orders. Evidence of the strategy of the Attorney General is to be found in the statements given to the press from time to time. On May 5 he was reported to have said that it was the patriotic duty of those still hoarding gold to turn it in to the Treasury. He said further, "If I were a hoarder and had not made good, I rather think I should make haste to do so. The man who turns in his gold now may be a technical violator, but those who purge themselves forthwith are in a better position than recalcitrant violators." Subsequently he made reports of the numbers of persons who had turned in gold, as a result of interviews by representatives of the Bureau of Investigation with alleged hoarders. On June 9, the Department was working on a list of approximately 10,000 persons. He declined to say when action would be taken against hoarders whose names had been turned over to the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, but declared that "they will be held up to scorn before their fellow citizens. * * * Somebody is going to be prosecuted; that is certain." On June 12 he said, "All of these will be run down and not one person who can be located will escape investigation. I am so

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