by Robert A. Waters
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order directing the Federal government to confiscate almost all gold coinage legally owned by private citizens. With the sweep of a pen, it became a crime to own the coins.
Roosevelt’s excuse was that hard times (i.e., the Depression) caused people to hoard gold. Of course, there was no law against hoarding gold—in fact, it was a rational decision made by millions of Americans. The fact that the government “reimbursed” the confiscated gold coins with paper money made the scheme downright sinister.
There seems to have been little backlash, at least so far as the media’s role in cheerleading this massive theft from American citizens. In fact, newspapers of the day cheered on FDR and his creepy henchman, J. Edgar Hoover. An example is this September 3, 1933 article in the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail entitled “Where is that gold?”
Many excuses are offered by hoarders when Government agents seek by persuasive methods to get them to return their gold and avoid the possibility of prosecution.
“Yeah, I withdrew the gold,” said one, “but my ‘sweetie’ took it away from me and I haven’t seen it since.” Not an eyelash of the Justice Department agent quivered as this story was told. Only a: “Sorry to have troubled you—but would you mind giving me the name of your ‘sweetie’?” After some hemming and hawing the hoarder decided that he might as well tell the truth. So, stepping back inside the house, he reached behind the face of an old grandfather’s clock and produced the $500 in gold and soon it rested in the bank and he had a pocketful of greenbacks given in exchange.
“Not all excuses are quite as simple this one,” said J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Bureau of Investigation, “though, in the end, we have had little trouble in getting our man. The work is quite different from that of tracing down criminals. It is more of a gentleman’s job. About all that is necessary is to call on the party cited to us as hoarding gold, remind him that he is violating the law, explain to him the seriousness of the penalty and the fact that if he is prosecuted by the Government he will get a lot of undesirable publicity. Such a line usually brings desired results.”
The penalty for not giving government agents your gold was a fine of $10,000 plus ten years in prison. That was enough to get most law-abiding citizens to comply.
After Roosevelt’s scheme was upheld by a “packed” Supreme Court, the government did what it does best: on a massive scale, it robbed the American people of almost all gold coins.