Robert Latham Owen
|Robert Latham Owen|
|United States Senator
December 11, 1907 – March 4, 1925
|Succeeded by||William B. Pine|
|Born||Robert Latham Owen, Jr.
February 2, 1856
|Died||July 19, 1947
Born into affluent circumstances in antebellum Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of a railroad company president, Owen suffered an almost Dickensian reversal of fortune when his family was ruined financially while he was still in his teens. Owen, who was part-Cherokee on his mother's side, responded by heading west to Indian Territory, where he built a new life as, in turn, a schoolteacher working with Cherokee orphans; a lawyer, administrator and journalist; a federal Indian agent; and the founder and first president of a community bank. Among the achievements that brought him to wider public notice, and helped pave the way for his election to the U.S. Senate in 1907 when Oklahoma (incorporating the former Indian Territory) achieved statehood, was his success as a lawyer in 1906 in winning a major court case on behalf of the Eastern Cherokees seeking compensation from the U.S. Government for eastern lands the Cherokees had lost at the time of the Indian removals.
A Democrat active in many progressive causes, including efforts to strengthen public control of government, and the fight against child labor, Owen is especially remembered as the Senate sponsor of the Glass-Owen Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which created the Federal Reserve System. In discussions at the time, he resisted a campaign to put the Federal Reserve formally under the control of the banking industry, and the 1913 Act emerged broadly in line with Owen's compromise proposal, creating a central Federal Reserve Board nominated by the Government alongside twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks dominated by the larger banks. Owen subsequently became highly critical of what he saw as the Federal Reserve's bias towards deflationary policies during the early 1920s and again in the early 1930s, which he attributed to excessive influence by the largest banks upon the Fed, and which he identified as largely responsible for causing the Great Depression: a minority view at the time, but one widely accepted by economists in recent decades. In 1920 Owen unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency.
Owen's mother, Narcissa Chisholm Owen (1831–1911), who did much to foster her son's career, published a set of memoirs in 1907 about her life lived between Cherokee and mainstream U.S. societies, which have more recently attracted scholarly attention and which were republished in a critical edition in 2005.
Early life and career
Owen was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on February 2, 1856, the younger of two sons of Col. Robert Latham Owen, Sr. (1825-1873), a civil engineer and former surveyor who had become President of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and Narcissa Chisholm Owen. The Owens were a family of Welsh origin, with a record of public service as doctors and teachers: Owen's grandfather, Dr. William Owen, and Owen's uncle, Dr. William Otway Owen Sr. (1820-92), both practised medicine in Lynchburg, and W.O. Owen Sr. served as Surgeon-in-Chief in charge of thirty hospitals in Lynchburg (which became a major wartime hospital center) throughout the Civil War.
During Owen's boyhood the family lived in Lynchburg's best-known mansion, Point of Honor. Owen attended private schools in Lynchburg and in Baltimore, Maryland. Narcissa relates that, not long after the Civil War, her husband resigned his position as President of the Virginia and Tennessee Railway due to his opposition to a proposed railway consolidation, and ran — evidently successfully — for election as a Virginia State Senator. In June 1873, however, when Owen was 16, his father died a financially ruined man, and the family fell on hard times. Owen, writing in 1934, connected their misfortune to the Panic of 1873, which struck the nation's railroads especially hard: "the value of my father's property was completely destroyed, and my mother, from a life of abundance, was suddenly compelled to earn her living by teaching music." With support from scholarships, initially obtained via his mother's contacts, but subsequently including the 1876 President's scholarship, awarded on merit, Owen was able to graduate in 1877 as valedictorian from Washington and Lee University. He also received the University's gold medal for debating prowess. His older brother, William Otway Owen, Jr. (1854–1924), meanwhile, attended the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia, and went on to a medical career with the US Army, eventually retiring with the rank of Colonel.
Owen was Cherokee through his mother, though there are conflicting indications of the extent of his Cherokee ancestry. Owen's listing on the Dawes Rolls, dating from around 1900, records him as 1/16th Cherokee by blood. Yet his mother, Narcissa Owen, according to her own account in her memoirs (1907), would herself appear to have been only 1/16th Cherokee, which if correct would imply that her son was 1/32nd Cherokee. Beyond this, the editor of Narcissa's memoirs has raised the possibility that Narcissa might unwittingly have missed out "one generation or possibly two" in her account of her family tree; adjusting for this possibility might further dilute her Cherokee blood. However this may be, Narcissa had grown up largely among the Cherokees, and she was capable of making skillful use of her Cherokee heritage, colorfully describing her father, Thomas Chisholm (a leader of the "Old Settlers" who moved west before the Trail of Tears), as "the last hereditary war chief of the Western Cherokees." She also gave both her sons parallel Indian names derived from famous Cherokee chiefs: she named Robert Oconostota after a noted Cherokee chief of the late eighteenth century who was also, according to Narcissa's Memoirs, her own great great uncle. On the advice of Col. William Penn Adair, a family friend, former Confederate Colonel and a leader among the Cherokees, Owen moved in 1879 to Salina in Indian Territory (now Salina, Oklahoma), where he was accepted as a member of the Cherokee Nation. He served during 1879-80 as the principal teacher of the Cherokee Orphan Asylum. His mother joined him in 1880 and taught music for several years at the Cherokee Female Seminary.
Owen studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1880. During 1881-84 he served as Secretary of the Board of Education of the Cherokee Nation, and worked on reorganizing the Cherokee school system. In parallel, he served in 1882, 1883 and 1884 as the President of the International Fair at Muscogee, IT, now Muscogee, Oklahoma (sometimes billed at the time as "the Indian Capital of the World"), the only fair held in Indian Territory at the time. He was owner and editor of the "Indian Chieftain" newspaper, based in present-day Vinita, Oklahoma, in 1884. In 1885, with a Democrat in the White House, Owen launched a successful lobbying campaign that saw him appointed as the federal Indian agent for the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, described by one student of his career as "the most important position to be held in Indian Territory". In the absence of a court system, he promoted the use of compulsory arbitration to settle thousands of civil cases between 1885 and 1889, when he assisted in the establishment of the first United States Court in Indian Territory. His mother served as his hostess until his marriage on New Year's Eve, 1889, to Daisy Deane Hester, with whom he had one daughter, Dorothea, born in 1894.
After the White House again changed hands in 1889, Owen left government service and organized the First National Bank of Muskogee in 1890, serving as its president for ten years. He later wrote that the bank's narrow survival of the Panic of 1893 was to influence his thinking about the need for fundamental reform in the US banking system:
This bank, like many other banks, lost fifty percent of its deposits within as many days because of the panic, which frightened people and caused them to withdraw their funds for hoarding throughout the United States and led creditors to strenuously press their debtors for settlement... This panic demonstrated the complete instability of the financial system of America and the hazards which businessmen had to meet under a grossly defective banking system.
As a lawyer and lobbyist, Owen handled a number of significant cases dealing with Indian land issues. Most notably, in 1900 he took on a celebrated case on behalf of the Eastern Cherokees against the US Government, seeking compensation which the Cherokees claimed was due to them under a treaty of 1835 for eastern lands lost at the time of the Indian removals. In 1906, after six years, Owen won the case and obtained compensation of close to $5 million for the Eastern Cherokees. He was also successful in his handling of important cases for the Western Cherokees, Choctaws and Chickasaws.
Beyond his obvious drive and ambition, neither his legal nor his political career was to be hampered by Owen's physical presence. He was a tall man of erect bearing, who kept a full head of hair to the end of his life. One contemporary newspaper profile described him as looking "like a leading man in a society drama." The New York Times spoke of him on his arrival in the Senate as "the square-jawed, black eyed, lithe young man from the West" and continued that "The Senator's voice is his most impressive asset. Liquid and soft in quality when he is talking dispassionately, it is as harsh and rasping as a file when he is aroused."
By the time he launched his political career, the combination of Owen's lucrative legal and lobbying practice, sometimes controversial land deals, and business activities including investments in ranching, mining and oil, had made him a wealthy man.
Owen served as a member of the Democratic National Committee during 1892-1896. He helped promote passage of an act in 1901 to give citizenship to residents of Indian Territory. He subsequently played a leading role in the group that in 1905 organized the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention in pursuit of the admission of Indian Territory to the Union as the State of Sequoyah. Despite receiving overwhelming support in a referendum, the Sequoyah campaign ran — entirely predictably — into the opposition of President Theodore Roosevelt and many in Congress, and Indian Territory was combined with Oklahoma Territory to be admitted into the Union in 1907 as the state of Oklahoma.
Owen was active in a number of efforts to increase popular control of government. He was also a consistent supporter of Prohibition (it was common in late 19th and early 20th century America for supporters of Prohibition also to be supporters of popular control of government, and vice versa). He campaigned for women's suffrage (though it did not make it into Oklahoma's original statehood constitution). He also worked successfully to place the direct primary, the initiative and referendum, and the recall (a combination of measures sometimes described as the Oregon System) in Oklahoma's state constitution. He was a sometimes outspoken critic of corruption in politics. He was among the organizers of the National Popular Government League, and served as its president from 1913 until 1928.
By the time of statehood and the 1907 elections that accompanied it, local Democrats had managed to harness popular resentment of large corporate trusts to overturn the earlier Republican political dominance of Oklahoma Territory. In the words of a history of Oklahoma politics, "The November elections of 1907 made Oklahoma a Democratic state for half a century to come".
Owen himself first ran in a non-binding primary for US Senator. The Democrats of Indian Territory recommended him to the voters as a "statesman, lawyer, businessman," and, significantly, "as an Indian". Owen took first place in the primary and was subsequently officially elected by the legislature as a Democrat to the United States Senate. As two senators were being elected simultaneously, Owen and Thomas Gore, the two men entered a lottery to determine which of them should serve the longer and which the shorter term before needing to run for re-election. Owen won the draw, and hence went on, as a member of the Senate's Class 2, to serve a first term of over five years, ending on March 4, 1913.
Owen was to be re-elected in 1912, after defeating a serious primary challenge from former Governor Charles Haskell, and again (without serious challenge) in 1918. He served all told from December 11, 1907 to March 4, 1925. Owen reportedly maintained a mailing list of 300,000 names.
On his arrival in the Senate, Owen became the second Senator at the time with acknowledged Native American ancestry, alongside Republican Senator (and future Vice-President of the United States) Charles Curtis of Kansas, whose maternal side was three-quarters' Native American, of ethnic Kaw, Osage and Pottawatomie ancestry. Curtis was the original author of the 1898 Curtis Act, which dissolved the tribal governments of the five civilized tribes, including the Cherokee, and promoted the allotment of formerly communal tribal lands to individuals, with a view to encouraging the assimilation of Indians into mainstream US society and the market economy (though the bill was heavily amended in committee, to the point where Curtis himself had reservations about the legislation in its final form). (See also Other issues below).
Very shortly after Owen was elected to the Senate, his mother published her memoirs (replete with references to "my son, the United States Senator"). Narcissa's exploration of her own cultural identity as a part-Cherokee woman navigating mainstream US society has recently attracted scholarly attention, and the memoirs were re-published by the University Press of Florida in a critical edition in 2005. In the words of the editor of the new edition:
[Narcissa] Owen's identity becomes fluid in the process of self-representation: both less noble and less savage than the dominant culture has constantly demanded, she is a Cherokee, southerner, Confederate, Christian, friend, family member, teacher, community organizer, tribal translator, socialite, trickster, mother, Indian queen, wife, social activist, healer, painter, storyteller, widow and gardener, to name just a few.
Banking issues and formation of the Federal Reserve
Owen entered the Senate at a time of heightened concern over the volatility of the US financial system, as exemplified by the Panic of 1907, during which, in the absence of a central bank, J. Pierpont Morgan had felt obliged to intervene personally to lead a rescue of the U.S. financial and banking system. Owen had taken a close personal interest in financial sector issues since his days at the First National Bank of Muscogee. Inter alia, he had traveled to Europe in the summer of 1898 to study the operation of major European central banks, including meeting senior officials at the Bank of England and Germany's Reichsbank. He made banking issues the subject of a pugnacious maiden speech in the Senate, which — unusually — was interrupted extensively by Senators such as Reed Smoot, Nelson Aldrich and Charles Curtis, who did not appreciate his attack on the power of the larger banks. During his early years in the Senate, Owen proposed a range of financial reforms, including several unsuccessful efforts to institute at the national level a system of insurance for bank deposits parallel to those operated in several states, including — from 1908 onward — Oklahoma (in the event, federal deposit insurance was not adopted until 1933).
The 1912 elections saw the Democrats take control of the White House and the Senate (they already held the House). Owen lobbied successfully for the creation of a new Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, and then became its first Chairman (a position he was to retain throughout 1913-1919). In this capacity, and working with the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, Owen was to be the Senate sponsor of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, also known as the Glass-Owen Act, which created the Federal Reserve System. A series of financial panics had convinced many that the United States needed an effective lender of last resort comparable to the central banks found in European countries and other advanced economies. Many, too, saw a need for what was then described as a more "elastic" currency. This concept had multiple dimensions, including: (i) a money supply that could respond over time to the development of the real economy, and (ii) given that the US economy was still heavily dependent on agricultural production, monetary arrangements able to handle the seasonal bulge in demand for credit as the yearly harvest worked its way through the distribution system, without draining money from the industrial and commercial sectors of the economy. This said, many Americans retained an almost visceral fear of the concept of a central bank as such.
Informed debate at the time focused to a significant degree on issues of governance and control. In common with other congressional Progressives, Owen opposed a proposal from Senator Aldrich for a system explicitly controlled by the large banks. Owen countered, in the words of an early biographer, that "the remedy presented in the form of the 'Aldrich Plan of 1912' was not satisfactory because it provided for private control of what should be a great public utility banking system."
Over the summer of 1913, Wilson held meetings with the authors of three competing proposals for the Federal Reserve:
Rep. Carter Glass proposed a decentralized and private sector-dominated system, with a board made up primarily of private bankers, 20 or more regional reserve banks, and with currency a private bank liability. Glass, a southern Democrat with a marked antipathy to centralized power, intended his proposal to be differentiated from the (similarly private sector-dominated) Aldrich Plan, inter alia, by the absence of a central institution, but to Glass's horror, Wilson told him to add a central agency (in Wilson's own word, a "capstone") to his model.
U.S. Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo (soon to become Wilson's son-in-law) proposed the most centralized model, featuring a Government central bank within the Treasury Department, no regional reserve system, and currency a government liability.Owen's own proposal represented something of a middle way between the other two proposals. It included a national currency board appointed by the Government, eight regional reserve banks, and currency as a government liability. During the summer's discussions, Owen's proposal received support from Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, and in the fall Wilson sent the Congress a bill that was closest to Owen's model.
After months of sometimes keen debate, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law on December 23, 1913. As signed, the Act remained closer to Owen's plan than to either of the two alternatives. It provided for greater government involvement than the proposals of Aldrich and Glass, in particular in the appointment of the members of the central Federal Reserve Board, while putting bankers in each region in charge of the twelve (regional) Federal Reserve Banks.
The 1913 compromise left important issues to be settled after the Federal Reserve System actually began operations, including the exact nature of the relationship between the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Banks, and how coordination was to be achieved between the different Federal Reserve Banks. A leading student of the history of the Federal Reserve has described the 1913 compromise as follows:
The Federal Reserve began operations... as a peculiar hybrid, a partly public, partly private institution, intended to be independent of political influence with principal officers of the government on its supervisory board, endowed with central banking functions, but not a central bank. Each of the twelve semiautonomous reserve banks set its own discount rates, subject to the approval of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, made its own policy decisions, and set its own standards for what was eligible for discounting.
Differences of view over the Federal Reserve's mandate began to become increasingly open in the aftermath of the First World War. In the words of a detailed study of Owen's role in shaping the Fed:
Owen and others viewed price stability and moderate interest rates as key objectives while most other early Fed leaders preferred to focus on maintaining the international gold standard and the strength of the banking system.
Owen became critical of what he viewed as the Federal Reserve's propensity during the early 1920s and again in the early 1930s to follow deflationary monetary policies. Writing in 1934, he stated that he had attempted in the Senate version of the Federal Reserve Bill to mandate the Federal Reserve to pursue a stable price level (i.e., avoiding both significant inflation and deflation), but that this provision had been struck out of the House version of the Bill (managed by Rep. Glass) due to what he described as "secret hostilities" — which he implied originated with the largest banks. He further recalled his opposition at the time to the deflationary policies pursued during 1920-21.
Referring to the period from 1929 to 1933 he continued:
Again, under President Hoover, the contraction of credit took place on such a colossal scale as to force the dollar index (purchasing power) to 166. The consequence was universal bankruptcy, every bank in the United States being forced to suspend operations at the close of Hoover's services.
Owen's argument that the Federal Reserve's deflationary stance was largely responsible for causing the Great Depression would have been considered unorthodox at the time he made it. In more recent decades, however, such a view has come to be widely accepted, due in large part to the influence of the 1963 study A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz.
Beyond his work on the Federal Reserve Act, Owen helped to pass the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916, which provided credit to small farmers through co-operatives.
Owen's chairmanship of the Committee on Banking and Currency through three Congresses, discussed in the section above, was his most prominent chairmanship by far. His other chairmanships were, by comparison, relatively mundane (if not obscure) in nature.
Committee on Indian Depredations, Sixty-second Congress (1911–1913). This committee had the narrow focus of overseeing claims under the Indian Depredation Act, which allowed for citizen claims against the federal government for crimes committed by Native Americans. Together with many other committees by then considered obsolete, the committee was to be wound up in 1921 under a major rationalization. The evidence suggests that Owen assumed the leadership of the committee briefly following the death of the original chairman in November 1912.
Committee on Pacific Railroads, Sixty-second Congress (1911–1913). This committee was appointed following an investigation into the finances of the Union Pacific Railroad, which was heavily indebted to the United States Government (it was first established as a select committee in 1889 and became a standing committee in 1893). This committee, too, was to be terminated in 1921.
Committee on Banking and Currency, Sixty-third through Sixty-fifth Congresses (1913–1919). See Banking issues and formation of the Federal Reserve above.
Committee on the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians, Sixty-sixth Congress (1919–1921). The Five Civilized Tribes is a term that historically was applied to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. All had a significant presence in Oklahoma. Owen was the last chairman of the committee, which was another of those wound up in 1921. Owen paid consistent attention throughout his time in the Senate to issues that affected Indian groups (both these five tribes and others), and was actively involved in debates over Indian land rights (see Other issues below) and Indian mineral rights cases, as well as disputes over membership in different Indian nations. It is not, however, clear that he made any special use of his chairmanship to promote significant new initiatives.
Beyond his chairmanships, Owen's committee assignments included service inter alia on: (i) Banking and Currency after the end of his chairmanship; (ii) Indian Affairs in all but the 64th Congress; and (iii) Appropriations from the 62nd through the 67th Congress.
Although remembered primarily for his role in the establishment of the Federal Reserve, Owen worked on a wide range of other issues during his time in the Senate, many of which either reflected the policy agenda of the Progressive Movement or had a direct bearing on the interests of his constituents.
In 1908, he helped to pass the Removal of Restrictions Act, which lifted then-prevailing restrictions on the sale of many of the individual allotments of Indian land in Oklahoma, an issue on which he had run in 1907. This extended an earlier process of converting Indian lands from communal to individual ownership. These policies have long been controversial. Critics of converting Indian land from collective to individual tenure (and removing restrictions on its alienation) have argued that: (i) traditional tribal structures were thereby undermined, and (ii) many Indians were induced to part with their land rights on unfavorable terms. Owen countered that the restrictions were paternalistic in spirit, bureaucratically applied, ineffective in their stated goal of protecting Indians from exploitation, and an obstacle to economic development.
In common with Woodrow Wilson, Owen was a supporter of lowering tariffs. He made an exception for the oil industry, where he argued that protection was needed for small independent producers, such as those in his state, against the ability of Standard Oil to import large volumes of cheap Mexican oil. Standard Oil was one of several trusts that Owen opposed during the course of his public career. He sought unsuccessfully to strengthen the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. In 1916, he attacked what he described as the "Lumber Trust," which he said had bribed members of the Illinois legislature to elect William Lorimer to the Senate in 1909 (Lorimer's election had been overturned in 1912 due to evidence of "corrupt methods" including vote-buying), and had, Owen said, subsequently retaliated against Owen himself for his role in exposing the Lorimer scandal by funding efforts to defeat his own re-election. Owen made several unsuccessful efforts to mandate effective disclosure of corporate campaign contributions in the interests of open government. He was a supporter of the Sixteenth Amendment, passed by the Congress in 1909, which allowed the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on census results; a federal income tax was required inter alia to make up for the revenues lost to the federal government by reductions in tariff rates.
In the Senate, Owen continued his work in support of greater popular control of government. He made repeated attempts, starting in 1907, to propose a constitutional amendment providing for the direct public election of US Senators, in place of election by state legislatures, until the Senate passed the Seventeenth Amendment to this effect in 1911. He also continued his strong support for extending the franchise to women (while opposing an amendment that would have restricted the franchise to whites only), until the successful passage in 1919 of the Nineteenth Amendment. He made several unsuccessful attempts to have the initiative and referendum adopted at federal level. He also campaigned unsuccessfully for the election and recall of federal judges, and to prevent federal courts from declaring acts of Congress unconstitutional, a power which, he argued, they had assumed illegally. He was likewise unsuccessful in his efforts to make it easier to amend the Constitution
In 1911, Republicans were blocking the admission of Arizona to statehood, while planning to admit New Mexico. Their declared grounds for opposing statehood for Arizona were that Arizona's constitution included the initiative, the referendum and the right of recall — the "Oregon System" of enhanced public sovereignty that Owen had long supported. It was, however, also generally expected that Arizona would return two Democrats to the Senate, while New Mexico was expected to favor Republicans. Owen filibustered the Senate for twelve hours until he had forced a Senate vote on the joint admission of both states. During the course of his filibuster, a message was brought to him that, if he would come to the President (Taft), a sincere effort would be made to reach an accommodation over Arizona. Owen responded "Present my compliments to the President, and advise him that at present I am engaged in addressing the Presidents of the United States." 
From 1910 onwards, with the encouragement of his brother William, a medical doctor who served for many years with the US Army, Owen campaigned unsuccessfully for the establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Health within the Federal Government. He promoted information on the achievements of Dr. Walter Reed and the Yellow Fever Commission, in part to demonstrate the potential of systematically-organized programs in the field of public health. His efforts to create a cabinet-level Department of Education, initiated in 1917, similarly failed to achieve success during his own lifetime. A combined Department of Health, Education and Welfare was eventually added to the cabinet under President Eisenhower in April 1953.
Owen was actively involved in efforts to outlaw child labor. He served as co-sponsor of the Keating-Owen Act of 1916, aimed at prohibiting the sale in interstate commerce of goods manufactured with child labor in the United States. In 1918, the Act was struck down as unconstitutional by a five-to-four decision of the Supreme Court in Hammer v. Dagenhart, evincing a noted dissent by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Following the Court's decision, Owen initially made an unsuccessful attempt to pass the legislation again with limited modification. In the event, the Congress responded to the Court's decision with the Child Labor Tax Law of 1919, which would have taxed products from child labor (and which in turn was declared unconstitutional in 1922 by an 8 to 1 vote in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.). In 1924, the Congress sought to amend the Constitution to give itself the power to regulate child labor. Finally, in 1941, after Owen's retirement from active political life, a unanimous Supreme Court in United States v. Darby Lumber Co. overruled the 1918 decision (in the process endorsing and going beyond the principles set forth in Holmes's dissent) and ruled that the Commerce Clause gave Congress the right to regulate conditions of employment.
Owen was a close ally of President Wilson over American involvement in World War I. In 1920 he withheld his support from the campaign for renomination of his fellow-Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Gore, over Gore's repeated criticisms of Wilson's positions on the war and the peace. Gore was then defeated in the Democratic primary by Rep. Scott Ferris, who, however, went on to lose in the general election to Republican John W. Harreld (Gore eventually returned to the Senate following re-election in 1930).
Owen worked unsuccessfully after the war to salvage Wilson's hopes for US participation in the League of Nations. In January 1920, at a time when the ailing Wilson himself refused to countenance any US reservations to the League's Covenant, and the influential Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge refused to accept membership without reservations, Owen issued a call for bipartisan compromise. A small group from both parties (including Lodge) then made substantial progress towards agreement, against Wilson's intense opposition. However, when the "irreconcilable" anti-League Senator William Borah learnt of the bipartisan discussions, he pressured Lodge into pulling out.
Owen was concerned about the prospects for international economic recovery after the war. In November 1919, he wrote to Wilson warning that the gold standard had temporarily broken down, and urging the President to convene an International Exchange Conference to address the problem; he also emphasized the importance, in the post-war period, of the United States helping the European countries to obtain credit via the marketing of their securities. Owen made unsuccessful attempts in the early post-war years to promote the establishment of a Foreign Finance Corporation (and/or a Federal Reserve Foreign Bank) to help expand credit for international trade.
Campaign for Presidency and final years in politics
Owen launched a run for the Presidency in Oklahoma on May 19, 1919, and undertook a tour of several states, seeking support, in the spring of 1920. He published a number of books during this period, publicizing his involvement in the passage of the Federal Reserve Act and his views on a variety of economic and foreign policy issues (see Works by Robert Latham Owen below). Owen received some indications of support from the party's three-time standard-bearer, William Jennings Bryan, who joined him on his campaign visits to some of the Western states, but Bryan's support for Owen was lukewarm, his influence in the party was past his peak, and he placed much of his focus in 1920 on promoting the cause of prohibition, the main theme of his eventual speech at the convention. Bryan declined to run for the nomination himself for multiple reasons — his health was problematic (he described himself to one journalist as "at the end of life") and he expected the Democrats to go down to defeat — though he privately left open the possibility of accepting the nomination in exceptional circumstances. Owen, for his part, gained few significant endorsements.
By the time of the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, whatever Owen's own ambitions, his candidacy had a "favorite son" appearance to it. He received 33 votes on the first ballot, which increased to 41 on the twentieth ballot. His support came primarily from his own state, together with some votes from Nebraska (Bryan's adopted state). On the fortieth ballot he again received 33 votes, putting him in fourth place. The Oklahoma delegates remained loyal until on the forty-fourth ballot Owen released them so as to ensure a unanimous vote for the Party's nominee Governor of Ohio James M. Cox. The chronicler of Owen's senatorial career relates that "efforts to secure Owen's consent to accept the nomination for vice-president failed," but any such efforts do not appear to have originated with the Party's nominee, who was decisive in his preference for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his running mate. The Cox-Roosevelt slate went down to defeat by a landslide.
Owen's later views on international affairs did not escape controversy. Though initially a firm supporter of the Treaty of Versailles, including its assertion of German responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, during 1923 his views changed radically under the influence of "revisionist" studies, including the publication of extensive (though incomplete) materials from the diplomatic archives of the pre-War Tsarist Russian Foreign Office. He made a major speech in the Senate on 18 December 1923 attributing primary responsibility for the war to France and (especially) Russia rather than Germany. Owen hoped that a public revisiting of the issue of war guilt might encourage reversal of some of the penal clauses imposed on Germany under the Versailles settlement, and pave the way to reconciliation between Germany and France, but his attempts to promote a Senate investigation of the war guilt question were narrowly defeated, largely along party lines — with many of his fellow Democrats concerned not to undermine the reputation of Woodrow Wilson — while an expert report prepared by the Legislative Research Service of the Library of Congress, though broadly supportive of Owen's arguments, was in the event never published as it was considered unlikely to obtain the support of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1926, following his retirement from the Senate, Owen was to publish a book advancing his revisionist thesis, under the title: The Russian Imperial Conspiracy, 1892-1914: The Most Gigantic Intrigue of all Time.
Owen wrote of the convictions underlying his efforts on the war guilt issue:
The Germans did not will the war. It was forced on them by the Russian Imperialists... The German, Russian, French, Belgian and allied peoples became alike the sorrowful victims... The happiness and future peace of the world require the reconciliation of the German and French people.
This said, some have seen Owen's preoccupation with the war guilt question as, at least to some degree, symptomatic of a growing detachment on his part from current U.S. political issues following the Democrats' loss of the 1920 elections. On the domestic front, the Harding administration's "return to normalcy" offered little scope for further advances on Owen's Progressive agenda; in international affairs, the post-1920 turn of US policy towards isolationism and protectionism also ran counter to his long-held principles.
In February 1924, Owen announced that he would not run for re-election, and on March 4, 1925, at the age of 69, he retired from the Senate. Owen did not campaign for the presidency in 1924, though when the Democratic Convention of that year reached its hundredth indecisive ballot, some 20 delegates cast their votes for him.
A leading student of Owen's political career sums up his overall assessment as follows:
If Owen failed to live up to the expectations of his own ambition, he was in any case an industrious and productive United States senator of the first order.
Later life and death
On Owen's retirement, the Democratic Party failed to retain his seat in the Senate. This reflected a split in the party over the candidacy of former Oklahoma Governor Jack C. Walton, who had been impeached and removed from office as Governor in November 1923, over accusations (inter alia) that he had acted unconstitutionally in suspending habeas corpus in the face of race riots fanned by the Ku Klux Klan. Although Walton won the nomination, largely on an anti-Klan platform, many local Democratic leaders, including Owen, declined to support his candidacy, and the seat was won in a landslide by the Republican candidate, William B. Pine. The seat reverted to Democratic control in 1930 when Thomas Gore was re-elected to the Senate.
After his retirement from the Senate, Owen initially practiced law and undertook lobbying in Washington, D.C. In the 1928 Presidential election, he felt unable to support his party's nominee Al Smith, due to Smith's strong anti-prohibition position and his connections to Tammany Hall; to Owen's subsequent deep regret, he became the first prominent Democrat to endorse the candidacy of Republican Herbert Hoover. He returned to the Democratic fold in 1932 to give a strong endorsement to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In retirement, Owen worked on a personal proposal to develop and promote a universal alphabet based on phonetic principles. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1941. Owen's only grandchild assumed his grandfather's name, as Robert Latham Owen III. In his later years Owen was functionally blind. His wife predeceased him in 1946, and he died in Washington of complications from prostate surgery on July 19, 1947. He was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Lynchburg, Virginia, near his beloved mother and other family members. Carter Glass, his fellow sponsor of the Glass-Owen Federal Reserve Act, with whom Owen had experienced a frequently strained relationship, lies nearby.
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- Houck, Peter W. A Prototype of a Confederate Hospital Center in Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg, Warwick House Publishing, 1986.
- Narcissa tells us that, at the time of their father's death, her sons had just completed their five years of studies at the Merillat Institute, in the suburbs of Baltimore, "a classical school", where they studied "Latin, Greek, French, German, and mathematics." A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Edited by Karen L. Kilcup. Gainesville, FL. University Press of Florida, 2005. p. 117.
- Narcissa indicates (Kilcup, p.100) that her husband and his company opposed consolidation plans led by the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, which acquired much of the stock of the Virginia and Tennessee Railway. The Norfolk and Petersburg Company was led at the time by the colorful former Confederate General (and future U.S. Senator, 1881-87) William Mahone, who engineered takeovers of both the Virginia and Tennessee and the South Side Railroad, and the consolidation of the three companies into the new Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad or AM&O, sometimes referred to, in ironic tribute to Mahone and his equally colorful wife, Otelia, as "All Mine and Otelia's". Mahone reportedly took over the position of President of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad (formerly filled by Robert Latham Owen Sr.) in the latter part of 1867.
- Narcissa does not explicitly state that her husband's election campaign was successful, but she subsequently writes of him answering letters in the Senate chamber and thus escaping injury when the floor of the nearby State Supreme Court room gave way (Kilcup, p. 100.). R.L. Owen Sr's service as a state senator is confirmed in Scales, James R. and Danney Goble. Oklahoma Politics, a History. Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. p. 33.
- Owen, Robert L. "Foreword" (dated October 29, 1934) to Money Creators by Gertrude M. Coogan, Chicago, Sound Money Press, 1935. The consolidated Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad, successor to Robert Latham Owen Sr's old Virginia and Tennessee Company, is known to have gone into receivership in 1873.
- Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Washington DC, 1907; and Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada: Garden City Press, 1938.
- W.O. Owen, Jr. originally retired from the US Army around 1905 with the rank of Major, and is referred to as retired with this rank in his mother's memoirs (1907). He was later recalled to service during World War I and retired for the second time with the rank of Colonel. See Virginia Genealogy Trails, "Virginia Military Institute: Class of 1876" (note that the transcription erroneously records the last name as Owens), accessed on 03/01/11 at: http://genealogytrails.com/vir/rockbridge/vmi/cadet_class_registers/cadets_1876.html.
- "Native American Data for Robert L Owen." Native American Database. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Narcissa Owen has been described in some secondary sources as 1/8th Cherokee. See e.g., Scales, James R. and Danney Goble. Oklahoma Politics: a History. page 33, Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982; as well as the unqualified quotation of this point from Scales and Goble in Brandon, Stephen. "'Mother Of U.S. Senator An Indian Queen': Cultural Challenge and Appropriation in The Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907." Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 13, Number 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2001. However, in her own memoirs (pp. 43-44), Narcissa Owen portrays her Cherokee descent as stemming from her great great grandmother Queen Quatsis, and does not mention Cherokee or other Native American blood from any other line of descent. The family tree that she provides would imply that she was 1/16th Cherokee. Following Narcissa's own account, the line of descent runs from: (1) Queen Quatsis (by assumption, fullblood Cherokee), via (2) The daughter of Quatsis and John Beamor (English), Peggy Beamor Holmes (1/2 Cherokee), (3) The daughter of Peggy and Col. Holmes (English), Martha Holmes Chisholm (1/4 Cherokee), (4) The son of Martha and John D. Chisholm (of Scottish ancestry), Thomas Chisholm (1/8th Cherokee), to (5) The daughter of Thomas Chisholm and Malinda Wharton Chisholm (of Irish ancestry), Narcissa Chisholm Owen (1/16th Cherokee).
- In her 2005 edition of the Memoirs (p. xxiii and following chart), Kilcup raises the possibility that Narcissa might have missed "one generation, or possibly two" between John Beamor (and his wife Quatsis) and Peggy Beamor, taken by Narcissa to be their daughter. The problem is one of dates. Narcissa tells us that Beamor and Quatsis met around 1699, when he was about 23 and she about 16; whereas Kilcup estimates that Peggy married Col. Holmes, while still fertile, circa 1776. If these dates come even close to being accurate, they would not appear consistent with Peggy being Quatsis's daughter, hence Kilcup's speculation that a generation (or two) might be missing from Narcissa's family tree. Of course, whether adjusting for any such omission would increase or further reduce Owen's share of Cherokee blood would depend on the ethnic background of the "missing" spouse(s).
- Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907 Washington DC, 1907, p. 43. In their commentaries on the Memoirs, Kilcup and Brandon have questioned the accuracy of Narcissa's description of her father, arguing that chiefly positions were not hereditary per se, and also implying that Narcissa conflated the concepts of "chief" and "war chief".
- Memoirs of Narcissa Owen and Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada: Garden City Press, 1938, p.13. Narcissa cites Oconostota as a son of Queen Quatsis and John Beamor. Narcissa gave her older son William the Cherokee name of Caulunna, meaning The Raven, after another Cherokee chief, whom she describes as the brother of Queen Quatsis.
- For a discussion of the Cherokee Orphan Asylum, see the Oklahoma Genealogy webpage, accessed on 3/2/12 at: http://www.oklahomagenealogy.com/mayes/cherokee_orphan_asylum.htm
- Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907; Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada: Garden City Press, 1938; and Brandon, Stephen. "'Mother Of U.S. Senator An Indian Queen': Cultural Challenge and Appropriation in The Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907." Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 13, Number 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2001.
- "Oklahoma's First Senator Dies." The Chronicles of Oklahoma, accessed at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v025/v025p178.pdf; Memoirs of Narcissa Owen; and Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada: Garden City Press, 1938.
- The "five civilized tribes" comprised the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole.
- Belcher, Wyatt W. "The Political Leadership of Robert L. Owen." The Chronicles of Oklahoma, 31 (Winter 1953-54).
- "Oklahoma's First Senator Dies." The Chronicles of Oklahoma, accessed at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v025/v025p178.pdf.
- Hester is described by Kilcup (p. 176) as "the daughter of a farmer and missionary".
- Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed on 12/11/10 at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/o/ow003.html
- Owen, Robert Latham. The Federal Reserve Act. New York, The Century Co., 1919.
- The formal record is as follows: 202 U.S. 101; 26 S.Ct. 588; 50 L.Ed. 949. UNITED STATES, Appt., v. CHEROKEE NATION. NO 346. EASTERN CHEROKEES, Appts., v. CHEROKEE NATION and United States. NO 347. CHEROKEE NATION, Appt., v. UNITED STATES. NO 348. Nos. 346, 347, 348. Argued January 16, 17, 18, 1906. Decided April 30, 1906. See also discussion in "Oklahoma's First Senator Dies." The Chronicles of Oklahoma, accessed at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/chronicles/v025/v025p178.pdf and Memoirs of Narcissa Owen pp. 38-39.
- See "Oklahoma's First Senator Dies".
- Brandon quoting Current Literature from 1908.
- New York Times: "Characters in Congress --- Senator Robert Latham Owen of Oklahoma." Accessed on 12/16/10 at:http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F70F10F7395517738DDDA80894DB405B888CF1D3
- For an indication of the controversy over some of Owen's land deals, which largely focused on the terms upon which Owen had obtained access to various plots of Indian land, see: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed on 12/11/10 at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/o/ow003.html. Belcher takes a more skeptical view of these criticisms of Owen, arguing that they tended to be raised at election time, and never resulted in any actionable charges. Scales and Goble in their history of Oklahoma politics report (p. 7) that, in pre-statehood days, much of the time of local politicians was absorbed in efforts to create scandals about one other.
- Author Kent Carter points to controversy over the use by Owen and other lawyers of contingency contracts in their representation of clients seeking enrollment as Mississippi Choctaws: "A number of lawyers, including Robert L. Owen and his partner, Charles F. Winton, were recruiting applicants in hopes of getting half of any land they might be allotted." "The Curtis Act of 1898 was to "strike a serious blow at Robert L. Owen and his associates in declaring all contingency contracts with Mississippi Choctaw null and void." Many years later, in 1922 (at a time when Owen was still serving in the US Senate), Carter relates, "Owen and his partners received $175,000 for their efforts," presumably as a result of Congressional action (Carter cites 70th Cong., 2nd Session. Sen Doc 263). Carter, Kent, The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914. (1999, Ancestry.com).
- Multiple sources quote Owen's fee for handling the 1906 Eastern Cherokee case at an estimated $160,000. Keso (p. 20) reports that, during Owen's campaign for the Senate in 1907, The Oklahoma State Capitol newspaper described him as "a millionaire... [and] a professional lobbyist in Washington".
- Kilcup, 2005. Note 84.
- Brandon, Stephen. "'Mother Of U.S. Senator An Indian Queen': Cultural Challenge and Appropriation in The Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907." Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 13, Number 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2001.
- See, for example: Nugent, Walter. Progressivism. (pp. 4-5 and passim). Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Scales and Goble explain (p. 21) that, as the constitutional convention met, some were concerned that, if women's suffrage was granted, black women would vote in much larger numbers than white women. Many delegates were swayed when, in a local school board election (the only level at which women were then allowed to vote) that happened to coincide with the constitutional convention, 751 black women were seen to vote while only 7 white women went to the polls.
- Historian Walter Nugent provides the following description of the Oklahoma constitution: "inspired by Bryan, written in part by Kate Barnard, and ... a model of Populist-Progressivism, perhaps the fullest statement ever of Democratic agrarian radicalism." Progressivism (p. 82). Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Brown gives examples of Owen publicly "naming and shaming" other politicians as corrupt. See also the present article's discussion of the Lorimer case.
- "Foreword" by Judson King, Director of the National Popular Government League, to Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada: Garden City Press, 1938, pp. 5-7.
- Scales, James R. and Danney Goble. Oklahoma Politics, a History. Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.
- Brandon, quoting Keso and the Muskogee Phoenix. In Brandon's own words, "Everything considered, much of Robert Owen's appeal as a senatorial candidate depended on his public persona as an "Indian" with a recognizable interest in Native American affairs and experience on a national level handling these affairs."
- Scales and Goble (p. 33) describe Owen, at the time of his initial election to the Senate, as representing "that form of genteel southern progressivism that would soon find its champion in Woodrow Wilson".
- Belcher, p. 365.
- Both Keso and the Biographical Dictionary of the US Senate quote Owen's service in the Senate as ending on March 3rd rather than March 4th, 1925. However, US Senate Document 98-29 published in 1984 and entitled "The Term of a Senator — When Does It Begin and End?" indicates that, prior to 1934, regular Senate terms both began and ended on March 4th of the relevant year. Accessed on 03/01/11 at: http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/termofasenator.pdf.
- Belcher, p. 371.
- Ewen, Alexander. "Charles Curtis: Was He Friend or Foe?" National Museum of the American Indian. Washington DC, Smithsonian Institution, circa 2000.
- A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Edited by Karen L. Kilcup. Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2005, p. 42. On Narcissa Owen's Memoirs, see also: Native American Women's Writing, An Anthology c. 1800-1924. Edited by Karen L. Kilcup. Wiley-Blackwell, 2000; and Brandon, Stephen. "'Mother Of U.S. Senator An Indian Queen': Cultural Challenge and Appropriation in The Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907." Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 13, Number 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2001.
- Owen, Robert Latham. The Federal Reserve Act. 1919.
- There is a colorful contemporary account of the debate, focusing on Owen's role, in the New York Times: "Characters in Congress --- Senator Robert Latham Owen of Oklahoma." Accessed at:http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F70F10F7395517738DDDA80894DB405B888CF1D3. The issues under discussion (relating to the Aldrich Currency Bill) are discussed more systematically in Brown, Kenny L. "A Progressive from Oklahoma: Senator Robert Latham Owen, Jr." pp. 239-240, The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume LXII, Number 3, Fall 1984.
- Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale, Canada, Garden City Press, 1938, p. 117 et seq. On the history of deposit insurance schemes at both state and federal levels, see: A Brief History of Deposit Insurance in the United States. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), 1998. Accessed on 12/24/10 at: http://www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/brief/brhist.pdf
- For a well-received recent book-length account of "the epic struggle to create the Federal Reserve" see: Lowenstein, Roger. America's Bank. New York, Penguin Press, 2015.
- Lowenstein points out (p. 70) that whereas Britain, equipped with a strong central bank, had not experienced a banking suspension since the time of the Napoleonic wars (which ended in 1815), the United States "had been scorched by five severe banking crises, in addition to more than twenty lesser panics, in little more than a generation".
- See Meltzer and Wicker.
- Two brief earlier experiments with central banking had been terminated for political reasons by, respectively, Presidents Madison and Jackson. See Lowenstein, Chapter 1, for a more detailed discussion of the historical background to the widespread American suspicion of central banking per se. Participants in the early 20th century discussions on these issues used to refer to themselves as haunted by the ghost of Andrew Jackson.
- Aldrich's influence was such that he was commonly described as "the General Manager of the Nation". He chaired the Senate Finance Committee in the years when the Republicans held the Senate. His daughter Abigail (Abby) married John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the only son (and the heir) of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the founder of Standard Oil, and preserved her father's memory by naming her second son, the future Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller. As recently as 1908, Aldrich had viewed proposals to create a Central Bank for the United States as premature, and the 1908 Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which he sponsored, did not provide for a Central Bank, instead focusing on opening the door for groups of banks to form "national currency associations" within a system based on "an asset-based currency issued by the banks." However, the Act also created a National Monetary Commission to advise on future monetary arrangements, and Aldrich was to lead the Commission's work. A visit to Europe during the summer of 1908 to study the banking systems of leading European countries convinced Aldrich and other participants of the superior efficiency of European banking systems (including their central banks) to what existed in the United States, and led to the formulation of the "Aldrich Plan." A now-celebrated step in the evolution of the plan was a secret 10-day meeting held in November 1910, under the guise of a duck-hunting trip, at the Jekyll Island Club on Jekyll Island, Georgia between Aldrich, key figures from Wall Street (including a number of younger bankers, like the German-born Paul Warburg, who had already been working on ideas for a central bank), academic experts on finance and Abram Piatt Andrew, the Assistant Treasury Secretary. In his study of Aldrich's role in the creation of the Fed, Elmus Wicker sees Aldrich's conversion to support for a central bank as a critical break-through. In 1908, according to Wicker, "asset-based currency proposals monopolized the banking reform debate," but after Aldrich's change of heart, "a central bank was the only proposal on the table." Wicker, Elmus. The Great Debate on Banking Reform: Nelson Aldrich and the Origins of the Fed. Columbus, The Ohio State University Press, 2005.
- Keso, p. 125.
- This paragraph primarily follows Wilkerson, Chad R. "Senator Robert Latham Owen of Oklahoma and the Federal Reserve's Formative Years." Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Economic Review (forthcoming). Posted on website at: http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/econrev/pdf/13q3Wilkerson.pdf Accessed on 10/3/13.
- Lowenstein, pp. 182-3.
- Examining the contribution of different actors to the formation of the Fed, Wilkerson writes of Owen: "It appears clear... that Owen's general preferences prevailed in the debate, even if others may have contributed more vitally to obtaining all of the necessary votes to pass a central bank bill". "Owen's version, with only modest variation, is ultimately what the Federal Reserve System came to be".
- In practice, it was probably to be expected that the Federal Reserve Banks would be dominated primarily by the larger banks in each region. The 1913 Act required the 7,500 or so national banks to join the Federal Reserve system. The roughly 20,000 state chartered banks were free to choose whether to join or not. Membership involved some costs (e.g., maintaining interest-free deposits with the Federal Reserve Banks), and at first only a tiny handful of state banks chose to join. See Meltzer, Allan H. A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 1, 1913-51. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 78.
- Meltzer, Allan H. A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 1, 1913-51. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 725. The first volume of Meltzer's history of the Federal Reserve covers, inter alia, the intellectual background to the Fed's establishment. Chapter 2 explores the lessons that central bankers in Europe (especially England) had learned and (crucially) failed to learn over the course of the nineteenth century. Meltzer sums up the "state of the art" of central banking around the time the Fed was established as follows (p. 54):
During the course of the [nineteenth] century, the Bank of England (and others) learned to offset panics by serving as lender of last resort, to prevent large inflations or deflations by adopting the gold standard, and to manage short-term demands for credit by adjusting the discount rate to limit or increase the amount of discounts. Twentieth-century concerns about employment and economic growth were heard but had little effect.
- Owen's role in the difficult parliamentary politics of passing the Federal Reserve Act is discussed in Brown, pp. 244-248. Owen provides his own account in his book The Federal Reserve Act (1919).
- Wilkerson. Wilkerson in turn quotes Meltzer's explanation of the Fed's increase in interest rates in 1920: "Federal Reserve officials defended the deflationary policy as a means of reversing the effects of the previous inflation and restoring the gold standard at the prewar gold price".
- The substantive debate at the time over whether or not to adopt a price stability goal for the Fed is discussed in Dimand, Robert W., "Competing visions for the U.S. monetary system, 1907-1913: the quest for an elastic currency and the rejection of Fisher's compensated dollar rule for price stability", Cahiers d'Economie Politique/Papers in Political Economy, 2003/2 (no. 45, pp. 101-121). Dimand argues that Owen's academic ally, Prof. Irving Fisher, struggled to reconcile a price stability goal with continuing U.S. participation in the Gold Standard. Fisher's proposed "compensated dollar rule" — which would have varied the gold weight of the dollar to offset changes in the price of a bundle of commodities — drew criticism as 'a "fancy monetary standard", too abstract and academic to inspire confidence'.
- Owen, Robert L. "Foreword" (dated October 29, 1934) to Money Creators by Gertrude M. Coogan, 1935, Sound Money Press, Chicago.
- See, for example, Ben Bernanke's categorization of "the prevalent view of the time, that money and monetary policy played at most a purely passive role in the Depression" in "Money, Gold and the Great Depression: Remarks by Governor Ben S. Bernanke" at the H. Parker Willis Lecture in Economic Policy, March 2, 2004. Accessed on 02/03/11 at: http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2004/200403022/default.htm
- Friedman, Milton and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1963. Friedman and Schwartz quote with approval Owen's testimony — criticizing the Fed's contractionary stance between December 1929 and August 1930, and again after January 1932 — given in March 1932 before the House Subcommittee on Banking and Currency (pp. 409-410, footnote 165).
- For the park's establishment as a memorial to Owen's work on the Federal Reserve Act, see Ted Todd in "On Robert Latham Owen" in TEN magazine, Kansas City Federal Reserve, Fall 2007 (accessed on 01/18/11 at: http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/TEN/pdf/Fall2007/Fall07About.RobertOwen.pdf). The National Archives provide a date of September 18, 1976 for the dedication of the park.
- Three sources were used to compile this list: (1) The "Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress" entry for Owen, (2) "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees, 1789-present", accessed on 01/20/11 at: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/CommitteeChairs.pdf, and (3) Keso, Appendix A, which provides a full listing of all Owen's committee assignments. Note that these sources occasionally provide contradictory information. Thus, the Biographical Dictionary cites Owen as chairman of the Committee on the Improvement of the Mississippi River and its Tributaries in the 62nd Congress, whereas the "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees" lists Sen. Jeff Davis as the Committee's chair at the time; Keso shows Owen as a member of the committee, but not its chair. See also the subsequent footnote on Indian Depredations.
- The "Biographical Dictionary" entry for Owen cites him as chairman during the 62nd Congress. The "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees" lists Sen. Isador Rayner as chair, but notes that he died on November 25, 1912. Keso shows Owen as a member of the committee but not its chair.
- National Archives, Center for Legislative Archives, Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate at the National Archives (Record Group 46), Records of the Select and Standing Committees on Pacific Railroads, 1889-1921. Accessed on 01/21/11 at: http://www.archives.gov/legislative/guide/senate/chapter-07-pacific-railroads-1889-1921.html.
- Keso, chapter 2.
- For a complete list, see Keso, Appendix A.
- Keso provides a near-comprehensive book-length treatment of Owen's positions on issues before the Senate throughout his career.
- The text of the 1908 Act is accessible online at: http://thorpe.ou.edu/treatises/statutes/Fct35.html. As background, the Dawes Commission (established 1893), followed by the Curtis Act of 1898, had promoted the conversion of the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes, including the Cherokee, from collective ownership to individual allotments (these five tribes had been excluded from the (comparable) provisions of the earlier Dawes Act of 1887). Typically, the above measures prevented recipients from selling their land for 25 years, unless a waiver was obtained from the Interior Department. The 1908 Act: (a) removed all restrictions on the sale of allotments by recipients who were less than half blood Indians; (b) removed restrictions on sale of lands other than homesteads by recipients who were between one half and three quarters Indian (the Act set restrictions on the sale of homesteads by this group to remain until 1931); and (c) maintained until 1931 all restrictions on alienation of land by recipients who were three quarters Indian or more, though the Interior Department was still permitted to lift such restrictions on a case-by-case basis.
- Historians have typically been critical of the US experience with the decollectivization of Indian land. A classic indictment is Angie Debo's And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1940 and (revised) 1972; and Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1984), which was sufficiently controversial when first written that the University of Oklahoma Press withdrew from publishing it. Owen's own position (summarized in the main text of the present article) is discussed by Brown (pp. 237-238) and Debo (especially Chapter VI). On the paternalism of the status quo, Debo quotes Owen as ridiculing restrictions that would protect him from exploitation. There were, of course, he said, some Indians who were incompetent, just as there were unthrifty individuals in any society; but he could not conceive of protecting people simply "because they are not good traders, because they are not learned in values, and not experienced in the ways of the world". Owen's critique particularly highlighted the powers given to the Interior Department to allow exceptions from the restrictions. "He supposed he could secure the removal of his own restrictions if he would consent to humiliate himself and prove his competence to some underpaid clerk in the Interior Department." Owen's stand attracted the hostility of tribal leaders such as Moty Tiger of the Creeks. In Owen's presence, Tiger said of him, "The polished and educated man with the Indian blood in his veins who advocates the removal of restrictions from the lands of my ignorant people... is only reaching for gold to ease his itching palms, and our posterity will remember him only for his avarice and his treachery." Responding to Tiger's attack, Owen suggested that the Chief's speech betrayed the influence of federal [Interior Department] officials, who, he implied, were the key beneficiaries of keeping the restrictions in place. "The only possible purpose of the continued guardianship of a race that did not need it was to provide salaried positions for Government employees".
- Brown, p. 241.
- Keso, Chapter 8.
- Under pressure to justify his allegations or withdraw them, Owen issued a statement several days later that, in speaking of the "Lumber Trust," he did not mean to refer to the manufacturers of lumber known as the National Lumber Manufacturers Association, but to a particular group of businessmen associated with Lorimer's Senate run. See Keso, p. 109.
- Keso, p. 112.
- Federal revenues from tariffs fell by a third between 1909 and 1916, according to Nugent, Walter. Progressivism (p.86). Oxford University Press, 2010.
- This paragraph relies on Keso, Chapter 3.
- Keso, pp. 48-49.
- Keso, p. 53.
- For this paragraph, see Keso, Chapter 7, and Brown, pp. 241-242.
- This discussion relies on Keso, Chapter 6, and Hall, Kermit (editor), The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, Second Edition. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.
- Scales, James R. and Danney Goble. Oklahoma Politics: a History. Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982, pp. 97-102.
- Brown, pp. 255-257.
- When a bipartisan proposal to approve League membership with reservations was brought to a vote in the Senate on March 19, 1920, twenty three Democrats deserted Wilson to vote in favor, but the resolution nonetheless fell a few votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Commenting on these bipartisan efforts, Wilson remarked to his physician, "Doctor, the devil is a busy man". As it transpired, this was to be the final occasion on which the Senate voted on the League. See: Macmillan, Margaret. Paris 1919. New York, Random House, 2002. p. 492.
- Brown, p.255.
- Keso, pp. 137-139.
- Brown, p. 257; Keso, p. 135.
- Brown, in his study of Owen's political career, writes that Owen "received the unimpassioned support of Bryan, who accompanied him on his campaign in some Western states" (p. 257). Any indications of support Bryan may have given Owen before the convention were apparently too ambivalent to be considered worthy of mention by Michael Kazin, in his highly-praised 2006 biography of Bryan. Kazin does record that, as the convention approached its final vote for Cox, whom Bryan disdained, Bryan (himself a delegate) "floated the names of a dozen dark-horse candidates, and then declined to vote on the final ballot." Kazin, Michael. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
- In Kazin's account, Bryan "wrote to his brother... 'I would not accept a nomination unless it seemed a duty.' That condition would be met only if the Republicans again split in two, if the 'labor people and the prohibitionists' got behind him, and if Democratic delegates expressed 'a need for me' in San Francisco. Bryan realized any of these occurrences was a long shot and the combination of all three a virtual impossibility." (Kazin, 2007 Anchor paperback edition, pp. 269-270).
- Brown, p. 257.
- This account of the 1920 Convention relies primarily on two sources. Owen's political chronicler, Keso (pp. 21-22), gives an account focused on Owen's candidacy. He takes Owen's potential to appeal at the national level seriously, and he is the source of the report — citing the Daily Oklahoman — that Owen turned down efforts to have him nominated for Vice-President (though Keso does not define who made these efforts). For David Pietrusza, in his book-length treatment of the 1920 election (1920: The Year of the Six Presidents. New York, Carroll and Graf, 2007), Owen never rises above the status of favorite son candidate. As to the Vice-Presidential nomination, in Petrusza's account, although five other "lackluster" names were placed in nomination, party nominee Cox was decisive in his own preference for FDR and, after clearing the plan with Tammany Hall boss Charlie Murphy, went with his first choice, and FDR was duly nominated by acclamation. Pietrusza does not mention any efforts that might have been made to persuade Owen to allow his name to go forward for the number two slot, but his account would imply that any such efforts did not originate with the party's presidential nominee.
- "In the summer of 1923 in Europe there fell into my hands at Paris the work of Rene Marchand — Un Livre Noir — containing the secret dispatches between the Russian Foreign Office and Isvolski, the Ambassador of Russia at Paris immediately preceding the World War. In London I obtained de Sieberts' publication of the like secret dispatches between the Russian Foreign Office and Benckendorf, the Ambassador of Russia at London. My interest was thus aroused and every book available on the subject was studied because it was perceived that the Allied Propaganda that they had fought unselfishly for democratic principles and to establish justice and right in international affairs had greatly deceived the people of the United States. It became perfectly obvious that the theory that the Czar was leading the fight to make the world safe for Democracy was ludicrous....". Owen, Robert Latham. The Russian Imperial Conspiracy, 1892-1914: The Most Gigantic Intrigue of all Time. First edition, 1926, privately printed. Second edition, 1927, published by Albert and Charles Boni, New York. p. vii.
- As Owen himself noted, his thesis — that Imperial Russia bore a high degree of culpability for the outbreak of the First World War — depended to an important degree on documents published by the Bolshevik government in the post-WW1 period. In the words of a recent, highly-praised study of the origins of the war, "The early Soviet documentary publications were motivated in part by the desire to prove that the war had been initiated by the autocratic Tsar and his alliance partner, the bourgeois Raymond Poincaré, in the hope of de-legitimizing French demands for the repayment of pre-war loans....... The Bolsheviks did publish many key diplomatic documents in an effort to discredit the imperialist machinations of the great powers, but these appeared at irregular intervals in no particular order.... The Soviet Union never produced a systematically compiled documentary record to rival the British, French, German and Austrian source editions. The published record on the Russian side remains, to this day, far from complete". Clark, Christopher, The Sleepwalkers (2013, New York, Harper), pp. xxiv-xxvi. An attempt at reviving the thesis of Russian war guilt was made recently in Sean McMeekin's revisionist study The Russian Origins of the First World War (Bellkap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011)
- Keso, pp. 165-168. Wittgens, Herman, "Senator Owen, the Schuldreferat, and the Debate over War Guilt in the 1920s" in Wilson, Keith M. (ed.) Forging the Collective Memory: Government and International Historians through Two World Wars. Berghahn Books, 1996.
- Though welcomed by some of his fellow "revisionists", Owen's book was poorly-received among leading professional historians. Writing in Foreign Affairs in October 1927, William L. Langer, subsequently Chair of the Harvard History Department, commented: "The former senator from Oklahoma proves to his own satisfaction that Russia and France had for many years prior to 1914 been plotting against the peace of the world. It may be doubted whether the book will convince many other people. It makes up in violence of statement what it lacks in sound critical scholarship, and will probably harm the cause of "revisionism" more than help it." Foreign Affairs website, Books and Reviews, Capsule Reviews. Accessed on 5/27/14.
- Historian Herman Wittgens places Owen's writings on the war guilt issue in the broader context of a campaign by the German Foreign Ministry to undermine the legitimacy of Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which pinned responsibility for the First World War on Germany and served as the moral basis for the Allies' imposition of reparations and other penal clauses upon Germany. Wittgens reports that the Foreign Office's "War Guilt Department", the Kriegsschuldreferat (also known, for short, as the Schuldreferat), supported the publication and distribution of both editions of Owen's book: "The Schuldreferat acquired through confidential negotiations with the senator 1,500 copies which were, for the most part, mailed by Owen to important politicians". "The embassy and the Schuldreferat were convinced that Owen, more that anyone else, had revived the debate over the origin of the Great War in the United States". Nonetheless, the relevant German authorities "rejected a German translation because the work was superficial and much behind German research. This, naturally, did not prejudice its value in the United States, whereas in Europe it would only invite criticism". Wittgens, Herman, "Senator Owen, the Schuldreferat, and the Debate over War Guilt in the 1920s" in Wilson, Keith M. (ed.) Forging the Collective Memory: Government and International Historians through Two World Wars. Berghahn Books, 1996. For a broader account of German government efforts on the war guilt issue, see Herwig, Holger H., "Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War". International Security, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Autumn 1987).
- Owen, The Russian Imperial Conspiracy. p. vi. Italics in original.
- The extent to which Owen's position on the origins of the war had changed can be exemplified by comparing The Russian Imperial Conspiracy to a pamphlet he had published in 1919, under the title Where is God in the European War? He wrote there (pp. 15-16): "The war was unavoidable when the power to prepare for war became vested in the hands of a Kaiser who had the vanity, the ambition, and the folly to believe he could successfully conquer the world, and the insolence and wickedness to attempt it, and a subservient people to follow and support his foolish ambition".
- See Brown, pp. 257-258, on Owen's lack of sympathy with Harding's policies and his growing political detachment. For the post-1920 US turn to isolationism and protectionism, see, e.g., Jeffry A. Frieden, Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century. New York, W.W. Norton and Co., 2006, especially pp. 144-148.
- Brown, p. 261.
- In announcing his support for the Republican candidate, Pine, Owen said of ex-Governor Walton, "Walton's election would discredit, demoralize, and injure the Democratic party and impair the high standards of Oklahoma in the United States Senate. He has already done the state enough harm." See Scales and Goble, p. 133.
- Scales, James R. and Danney Goble. Oklahoma Politics: a History. Norman, OK, University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.
- Brown, p. 258.
- The Milwaukee Journal of July 28, 1943, reported on an interview with Owen under the headline "'Global Alphabet' to Help World Harmony Offered": "Using 41 novel symbols and holding 16 others in reserve, former United States Senator Robert L. Owen of Oklahoma has developed a "global alphabet" he thinks capable of breaking down the world's language barriers. "Through it, I can teach any reasonably intelligent man Chinese in two months," he said. "It is a means by which we can teach the English language to all the world at high speed and negligible cost. It will pay its own way." Although at first glance Owen's alphabet appears to resemble some shorthand systems, he says it is entirely different. His is based on 18 vowel sounds, 18 consonants and 5 double consonants -- "ch," "sh," "th," "ng" and "wh." The 41 regular letters are little hooks and wiggles and slashes and curves. In case it develops that Tibetan or Urdu or some other tongue contains sounds not capable of expression by the 41, Owen has 16 orthographic substitutes warming the bench...... A former Indian agent for the five civilized tribes in Oklahoma, Owen was inspired by Chief Sequoia, who in 1823 invented an 85 character alphabet which enabled his Cherokee tribesman to learn in two or three weeks to write their own language." Accessed online on July 19, 2014 at: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19430728&id=i-8ZAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FSMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5551,5029640
- "Oklahoma Hall of Fame: Hon. Robert Latham Owen."
- "Former Oklahoma Senator Dies At 91". Associated Press in the Baltimore Sun. July 20, 1947. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- As this article has shown, Owen and Glass had espoused radically different visions for the Federal Reserve. Even after passage of the eventual compromise version, relations between the two men remained difficult. They were far apart in their overall political philosophies: Owen a Progressive, Glass a southern states' rights Democrat and segregationist. They were rival candidates for the presidency at the 1920 party convention (though neither truly rose above "favorite son" status). The chief bone of contention between them, however, concerned which of them deserved more of the credit for the Federal Reserve Act. In Allan Meltzer's words, "Glass gave no credit" to Owen (A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 1, 1913-51. Chapter 3, footnote 5). According to Ted Todd in "On Robert Latham Owen" in TEN magazine, Kansas City Federal Reserve, Fall 2007, accessed on 12/23/10 at: http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/TEN/pdf/Fall2007/Fall07About.RobertOwen.pdf, Glass was "outraged" at Owen's account of the evolution of the Glass-Owen Act in Owen's 1919 book. Owen, in turn, resented what he considered the undue credit given to Glass, at his own expense, as father of the Act. Owen declined to attend the 1938 unveiling of a bust to Glass at the Federal Reserve. Later, though, he wrote an emollient letter to Glass proposing that, as fellow sons of Lynchburg, they put their differences behind them.
- Robert Latham Owen at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Dictionary of American Biography
- Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, accessed on 12/11/10 at: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/o/ow003.html
- Belcher, Wyatt W. "The Political Leadership of Robert L. Owen." The Chronicles of Oklahoma, 31 (Winter 1953-54).
- Brandon, Stephen. "'Mother Of U.S. Senator An Indian Queen': Cultural Challenge and Appropriation in The Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907". Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 13, Number 2 & 3, Summer/Fall 2001.
- Brown, Kenny. “A Progressive From Oklahoma: Senator Robert Latham Owen, Jr.” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 62 (Fall 1984): 232-65.
- Keso, Edward Elmer. The Senatorial Career of Robert Latham Owen. Gardenvale (Canada), Garden City Press, 1938.
- Owen, Narcissa Chisholm. Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Washington DC, apparently self-published, c. 1907. Republished in a critical edition as: A Cherokee Woman's America: Memoirs of Narcissa Owen, 1831-1907. Edited by Karen L. Kilcup. Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2005.
- Todd, Ted. "On Robert Latham Owen." TEN magazine, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Fall 2007, accessed on 12/23/10 at: http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/TEN/pdf/Fall2007/Fall07About.RobertOwen.pdf
- Wilkerson, Chad R. "Senator Robert Latham Owen of Oklahoma and the Federal Reserve's Formative Years." Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Economic Review (forthcoming). Accessed on 10/3/13 at: http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/econrev/pdf/13q3Wilkerson.pdf
Works by Robert Latham Owen
This list focuses on Owen's book-length works, and excludes shorter pieces such as his prolific journalism or reprints of individual speeches:
- The Code of the Peoples' Rule: Compilation of Various Statutes, Etc. Relating to the People's Rule System of Government. Washington DC, Government Printing Office, 1910.
- The Covenant of the League of Nations: What It Proposes and What It Does Not Propose. Washington DC, Government Printing Office, 1919.
- The Federal Reserve Act. New York, The Century Co., 1919.
- Foreign Exchange. New York, The Century Co., 1919.
- "Foreword" (dated October 29, 1934) to Money Creators by Gertrude M. Coogan, Chicago, Sound Money Press, 1935.
- The Russian Imperial Conspiracy, 1892-1914: The Most Gigantic Intrigue of all Time. First edition, 1926, privately printed. Second edition, 1927, published by Albert and Charles Boni, New York.
- Where Is God in the European War? New York, The Century Co., 1919.
- Yellow Fever; a Compilation of Various Publications: Results of the Work of Maj. Walter Reed, Medical Corps, United States Army, and the Yellow Fever Commission. Washington DC, Government Printing Office, 1911.
A recording of Owen delivering a speech, dating from 1920, may be heard on the Library of Congress website at: http://frontiers.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/nfor:@field(DOCID+@range(90000067+90000068)).
There is an archive of Owen's papers at the Library of Congress. There are smaller collections, largely covering the period after his retirement from the Senate, at the University of Oklahoma's Carl Albert Center (see link below) and at the Federal Reserve.
|United States Senate|
|U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Oklahoma
December 11, 1907 – March 4, 1925
Served alongside: Thomas P. Gore, John W. Harreld
William B. Pine
|Oldest living U.S. Senator
February 4, 1942-July 19, 1947