Will Rogers – Mortgage Relief

Will Rogers (19th century photo)

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I am a big fan of the American humorist, Will Rogers. I have a first edition of one of his biographies, (Will Rogers, Ambassador of Good Will, Prince of Wit and Wisdom – P.J. O’Brien) and hope to collect a complete set of his newspaper columns.

The mortgage foreclosure crisis has  long been a concern of mine. I’ve written about it many times.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Rogers had his own views on the subject –

… Why my lord, there is dozens of different things that will help the farmer on his land, besides water, or fertilizer, either. There is the interest on the first, and second mortgages. Why don’t they introduce a bill in Congress to help the farmer by paying off his mortgages? That’s what eating him upon the farm, it’s not lack of irrigation, or lack of fertilizer – it’s abundance of interest payments; that’ s the baby that is there every minute of every day. Talk and sing about “Old Man River,” but it’s old man “interest” that keeps the farmer running to town every few days. He has to have a bookkeeper to keep a set of book to keep track of when his various Notes and Mortgage interest comes due. It’s the thought of the old mortgages that keep him awake at night.

But if you notice, they are always trying to put through some kind of bill in Congress, but nobody ever puts one through to do something about interest. No sir, you couldn’t do that, because then you are getting into the business of the boys that really hold the hoops while the jumping is going on. You could no more get a bill through to whittle the old interest down, than you could get a politician to admit a mistake.

(The column was written in 1928 and is found on pages 134-135 of A Will Rogers Treasury, compiled by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N. Sterling, Crown Publishing 1982)

Rogers was not a big fan of Congress or the big banks. In 1928, the farming depression was in its tenth year. American farmers had prospered during the First World War and had borrowed heavily to increase production by buying more land, mechanizing their farms, fertilizing and irrigating their crops. When the war ended and the soldiers of that war returned home and resumed farming the price of every kind of agricultural commodity dropped dramatically. The farmers were left on the hook for large mortgages that were difficult to pay. Believing in their way of life they doubled down getting further into debt but the agricultural depression did not let up until the Second World War. I wouldn’t be until the Roosevelt Administration that the farmers began to receive significant aid.

Will Rogers was a member of the one percent, the highest paid film star of his time but he never forgot where he came from and who was important even though they didn’t have that much money.

James Pilant

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