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A Voice for the Farmer


A Reciprocal Trade Agreement enacted by Congress in 1934 gave the President the authority to negotiate international trade agreements. But not all areas of the economy benefited equally from the arrangement. North Dakota Representative William Lemke opposed an extension of the Act. On this date in 1940, Lemke declared that domestic agricultural markets had been “bartered away or sold to foreign nations.” Under the Act, the United States had imported over $21 million in foreign agricultural products. Lemke said agricultural exports had not matched that amount. He said farmers had suffered since the end of World War I, when demand decreased suddenly and agricultural prices dropped. As the prices for their products bottomed out, farmers struggled to stay on the land.

Lemke said a trade agreement was the same as a treaty. Treaties were the responsibility of the Senate, not the President. He said President Roosevelt came from an industrial state, and did not have a full understanding of agriculture. He very opposed any move to extend the agreement, saying representatives from agricultural states should have a say in the matter to balance the President’s support for industrial states. That meant putting the decision for the Act in the Senate, where Lemke said it belonged. However, Lemke was not successful in putting an end to the Act. Congress approved the extension.

Congress was not oblivious to problems faced by farmers, however. There was concern about farmers leaving the land, and lawmakers realized something had to be done to provide support. On February 27th, 1940, the House Agricultural Committee recommended a new program to address farm tenancy. $350 million would be raised from private investors. The funds would be loaned to farm tenants. The loans would allow tenants to become owners, hopefully stabilizing the farm situation. The federal government started granting direct loans to farmers in 1937.

William Lemke served in Congress for sixteen years. Throughout his tenure, he was a strong supporter of North Dakota farmers.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. "http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=L000238" http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=L000238 Accessed 10 January, 2015.

Grand Forks Herald. “Says Pacts Cut Farmer Income.” 27 February, 1940.

Grand Forks Herald. “Launch New Farm Tenant Aid Proposal.” 27 February, 1940.

Irwin, Douglas A. “From Smoot-Hawley to Reciprocal Trade Agreements: Changing the Course of U.S. Trade Policy in the 1930s.” Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1998.