Print

Paul Osgood Peters

Archie Henderson

 

In answer to A. David Moody’s query no. 16 in “Fact Check / Detox,” Make It New V.1 (Spring 2019), “Paul Peters” can be identified as Paul Osgood Peters (Wisconsin, 24 Sept. 1885-Arlington, Virginia, 31 Dec. 1959). In his earlier years, Peters was a journalist and Republican Party activist based in St. Louis, Missouri. He achieved some local renown when, in 1936 and 1937, the Citizens’ Non-Partisan Committee, which he led, vigorously opposed a bond issue to support the financing of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial project in St. Louis.[1] He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for United States Senator from Missouri in 1940.[2] After his electoral defeat, Peters seems to have moved from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., where he took a job as secretary to Rep. Robert Fleming Rich (1883-1968), a Pennsylvania Republican whose tag line for budget proposals was “Where are you going to get the money?”[3] He was also a speech writer for the Republican National Committee.[4] From an office in Washington, where he continued to work for the rest of his life, Peters edited and published the right-wing Washington News Bulletin, which was a daily newsletter on government financial statistics (1949-1959)[5], and the National Observer, a four-page large format political newspaper (three issues, Oct.-Dec. 1957). A copy of one of the issues of the National Observer is in the Pound papers at Hamilton.

In 1952, Peters wrote Dissenter’s Handbook, which was issued as a warning to American voters before the national elections in November.[6] The pamphlet, a self-published production reproduced from typescript, contains numerous statistical and budgetary charts and tables, but intermixed with the technical materials is text which underscores Peters’s right-wing orientation and the nature of his warning. Towards the beginning of his pamphlet, in a section entitled “Dr. William A. Wirt’s Testimony in 1934,” Peters discusses a report made by Dr. William Albert Wirt, first superintendent of the Gary, Indiana, public school system, on a meeting held at the home of Alice Barrows in Alexandria, Virginia, on September 1, 1933.[7] Wirt had reported that, at the meeting, “certain Federal employees then considered a part of the so-called ‘brain trust’ were planning to thwart the recovery of the Nation and were working for a new social order.”[8] Almost twenty years later, after having lived through successive “New Deal-Fair Deal administrations,” Peters reflects that “The country has been made over, almost according to the plans which Dr. Wirt disclosed back in 1934.”[9] This conspiracy-mongering attack on Roosevelt and the New Deal, as well as on the current Truman administration, would have resonated with Pound. Peters quotes with approval Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.”[10] In Canto 62, Pound quotes John Adams’s similar lament about taxes which “will accumulate perpetual DEBT | leading to yet more revolutions.”[11] Peters also opposes “economic internationalists and others who were working for a world government organization”[12]; foreign aid as “a continuing drain upon the American economy”[13]; the United Nations, about which Peters numbers himself as one among “many [who] now think we ought to disassociate this country from membership, because the United Nations has not lived up to expectations either as an instrument for world peace nor as a deterrent against a[g]gression”[14]; and the “so-called police action in Korea.”[15] On all of these right-wing issues, Pound stood in agreement with Peters, as a reading of his correspondence with Olivia Rossetti Agresti in the 1950s makes clear.[16]

Beginning in 1955, Peters increased his activism, testifying before Congressional committees and associating with leading right-wing organizations. Along with J. H. Gipson, Sr., president of Caxton Printers (Caldwell, Idaho) and one of Pound’s correspondents and hospital visitors[17], Peters was designated a trustee of the Campaign for the 48 States, an organization founded in 1955 which “[p]romotes amendments to limit and reduce federal taxation and balance the budget.”[18] Peters’s written statement in support of Senate Joint Resolution 23, proposing the repeal of the income tax amendment to the United States Constitution, was read into the record of a congressional hearing on April 24, 1956.[19] In August 1957, Peters was named to the temporary advisory board of Willis A. Carto’s newly-founded Liberty Lobby, along with fifteen others including Lt. Gen. P. A. del Valle (mentioned in Canto 105) and Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer (whose anti-Semitic letter to the Anti-Defamation League was published in an issue of the Poundian publication Strike).[20] In the same month, Jess M. Ritchie of Oakland, Cal., traveled to Washington, D.C., to establish headquarters for the Constitution Party of the U.S.A., of which he was then national chairman.[21] Paul O. Peters was named research director for the party and figured prominently in the party’s literature.[22] On February 25, 1958, along with Pound’s disciple T. David Horton and others, Peters testified before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary in support of S. 2646, a bill to limit the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in certain cases.[23]

Pound might have met or learned about Peters through P A. del Valle, who had “hired a statistician” – probably Peters – in “1953 or thereabouts . . . to get me the figures on how much money the state gave to the federal government and how much largess was showered upon our state by the federal aid projects from roads to school lunches.”[24] At any rate, Pound seems to have first mentioned Peters in a letter to William Fleming, 11 Mar. 1955, when Pound urged that Meanjin review Peters’s Dissenter’s Handbook.[25] Two years later, Pound cited both Ritchie and Peters in a letter to David Wang, dated 28 Sept. 1957: “CONSTITUTION PARTY. Ritchie combining with Peters who has vast amount of PARTICULAR knowledge. though stuck in his own generation.”[26] National Observer was the organ of the Constitution Party of the U.S.A.[27] The first of the paper’s three issues, dated Oct. 1957, was apparently available by the date of Pound’s letter, as it was copyrighted by Peters on 23 Sept. 1957.[28] This is the issue that is housed in the Pound collection at Hamilton, although there is no evidence that Pound saw the issue before writing to Wang.[29] However, a large photograph of Ritchie, the “newly elected chairman of the Constitution Party of the United States,” appears on the very first page of that issue. The description of Peters as “stuck in his own generation” is consistent with his signed editorial on page 3, where he remarks that “The years have brought no significant changes in the fundamental political issues that were emerging in 1942.”[30]

It was after 1957 that Pound expanded his criticism of Peters, as mentioned in the Bridson interview and the notebook draft (with the s in Peters) and published version of Canto CXIII (in which the s is omitted). The difference between twelve and 104 percent interest alludes to various models for a Gesellite monetary scheme. Twelve percent would represent a modest monthly one-cent stamp on every dollar. For Pound, a “12% annual demurrage tax” would be enough “for elimination of national debt and all other taxes.”[31] This was the “sane 12% per year as used as Worgl.”[32] On the other hand, Peters presumably supported a scheme requiring an exorbitant weekly two-cent stamp on every dollar, with an effective annual rate of 104 percent. In the same letter to Fleming cited above, Pound wrote that “The inebriated imbecility of Aberhart and Bankhead in emitting and/or proposing a 2% weekly stamp is intolerable.”[33] This was the position that Pound had taken as early as 1942 in objecting to the proposals offered by Aberhart, Premier of Alberta from 1935 to 1943, and others: “Mebbe no one has told ‘em you OUGHT, you really ought NOT to ask the pliant public to put a stamp on its stamp scrip once a WEEK.”[34] Although stamp scrip is not mentioned in any of the issues of the National Observer from 1957, it is possible that Peters expressed his support for a 2% weekly stamp in other writings of his which Pound might have read, or in a personal meeting with Pound.

 


Notes

[1] Tracy Campbell, The Gateway Arch: A Biography (New York and London: Yale University Press, 2013), pp. 33, 38, 40; Jim Merkel, The Making of an Icon: The Dreamers, the Schemers, and the Hard Hats Who Built the Gateway Arch, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2018), p. 28.

[2] “The Paul O. Peters Collection,” The College of Wooster, https://www.wooster.edu/academics/libraries/collections/collections/peters/.

[3] “‘Big’ U.S. Foreign Aid Spending Yet to Come,” Elmira Star-Gazette, Elmira, N.Y., Oct. 4, 1951, p. 7.

[4] “The Paul O. Peters Collection,” The College of Wooster, https://www.wooster.edu/academics/libraries/collections/collections/peters/.

[5] Washington News Bulletin was listed in The first national directory of “Rightist” groups, publications and some individuals in the United States (and some foreign countries) (3rd ed. San Francisco: Liberty and Property, 1957).

[6] Paul Osgood Peters, Dissenter’s Handbook (Washington, D. C., 1952). I am grateful to Denise Monbarren, Special Collections Librarian, Department of Special Collections, Andrews Library, College of Wooster, for her assistance in answering questions and providing documents.

[7] See William A. Wirt, America must Lose - by a “Planned Economy”, the Stepping-Stone to a Regimented State (New York: Committee for the Nation, 1934), http://fau.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/fau%3A32640/datastream/OBJ/view/America_Must_Lose-_By_a__Planned_Economy___the_Stepping-stone_to_a_Regimented_State.pdf.

[8] Peters, p. 14.

[9] Peters, pp. 7, 37.

[10] Peters, p. 36.

[11] Canto 62/348, The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1996).

[12] Peters, p. 50.

[13] Peters, p. 54.

[14] Peters, p. 55.

[15] Peters, back cover.

[16] “I Cease Not to Yowl”: Ezra Pound’s Letters to Olivia Rossetti Agresti, edited by Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos and Leon Surette (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998).

[17] “Jim Gipson, of the Caxton Press, of Caldwell, Idaho, recently called on Pound and wrote me ‘he is as rational as any man could be.’” (Westbrook Pegler, “As Westbrook Pegler Sees It: Why Is Ezra Pound Held?” San Antonio Light, San Antonio, Texas, Tuesday, June 14, 1955, p. 26).

[18] The first national directory of “Rightist” groups, publications and some individuals in the United States (and some foreign countries) (3rd ed. San Francisco: Liberty and Property, 1957), p. 5. Both Peters and Gipson are listed as trustees in a full-page advertisement for Campaign for the 48 States in National Observer I.3 (Dec. 1957), p. 4.

[19] Taxes on incomes, inheritances, and gifts. Hearing before a subcommittee on the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-fourth Congress, second session, on S.J. Res. 23, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to taxes on incomes, inheritances, and gifts. April 24, 1956 (Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1956), pp. 124-127, available online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112121379207;view=1up;seq=132.

[20] “Seek To Establish Lobby For Patriots In Capital,” The Citizens’ Council (Jackson, Miss.) 2.11 (Aug. 1957), p. 4, online at http://fultonhistory.com/Process%20small/Newspapers/Newspapers%20%20Out%20of%20NY/Jackson%20Miss%20Citizen%20Council%201955-1961/Jackson%20Miss%20Citizen%20Council%201955-1961%20%20(98).pdf; Strike, Washington, D.C., 7 (Dec. 1955), pp. 1, 3, 4 [reprinted in New Times, XXII.2 (27 Jan. 1956)]. The original letter to Stratemeyer, from Henry Edward Schultz of the ADL, together with Stratemeyer’s reply, was printed in a pamphlet, General George Stratemeyer challenges Jewish Anti-Defamation League: hero of the Korean War gives courageous reply to coercive letter from Jewish pressure machine) (Los Angeles, California: Christian Nationalist Crusade, [1955?]), online at https://ia801805.us.archive.org/21/items/foia_Hoover_J._Edgar-Masters_of_Deceit-12/Hoover_J._Edgar-Masters_of_Deceit-12_text.pdf. A copy of the letter to Stratemeyer, in Dorothy Pound’s hand, is in the Ezra Pound Papers at Yale.

[21] “Bay Man Seeks Constitution Party Site,” The Fresno Bee Republican, August 26, 1957, p. 9; “Offices Opened By New Party,” The Washington Post and Times Herald, September 17, 1957, p. B1.

[22] “Constitution Party Opens Headquarters. National Offices Set Up In Washington,” The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland, Sept. 16, 1957, pp. 1, 3 (at 3); [political advertisement for the Constitution Party of the United States, including the party platform], The Sunday Press, Binghamton, N.Y, Jan. 19, 1958, p. 8-A, https://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper4/Binghamton%20NY%20Press%20Grayscale/Binghamton%20NY%20Press%20Grayscale%201958/Binghamton%20NY%20Press%20Grayscale%201958%20-%200754.pdf.

[23] Congressional Record Daily Digest of the 85th Congress, Second Session, Volume 104-Part 17 (1958), p. D90; United States, Senate, Congress, Committee on the Judiciary. Limitation of Appellate Jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court. Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-fifth congress, second session on S. 2646. February 19-21, 25-28, March 4 and 5, 1958 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1958), Part 2, pp. 158-160.

[24] Pedro del Valle, “Federal aid” [letter to the editor], “Capital readers give their views,” The Evening Capital, Annapolis, Maryland (6 Dec. 1977), p. 4.

[25] Pound, letter to William Fleming, 11 Mar. 1955, Helix, 13/14 (1983), p. 178, printed in connection with an article by Earl Philrose, “Melbourne Papers,” Helix, 13/14 (1983), pp. 179-91.

[26] Pound, letter to David Wang, 28 Sept. 1957, in Ezra Pound’s Chinese Friends: Stories in Letters, edited and annotated by Zhaoming Qian (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 194.

[27] Subject Catalog of the Institute of Governmental Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley, Volume 18 (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1970), p. 173.

[28] Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 11, Part 2, Number 2. Periodicals, July-December 1957 (Washington, D.C.: Copyright Office, The Library of Congress, 1958), p. 302, https://books.google.com/books?id=-UAhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA302.

[29] Bernard Dew, “Newsletters Received by Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital” (June 22, 2006), http://contentdm6.hamilton.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/rb-fia/id/24/rec/1.

[30] Peters, “Why the National Observer?” National Observer I.1 (Oct. 1957), p. 3.

[31] Pound, letter to Olivia Rossetti Agresti, 18 Feb. 1955, “I Cease Not to Yowl”, p. 177.

[32] Pound, letter to Olivia Rossetti Agresti, 18 Mar. 1955, “I Cease Not to Yowl”, p. 182.

[33] Pound, letter to William Fleming, 11 Mar. 1955, Helix, 13/14 (1983), p. 178, printed in connection with an article by Earl Philrose, “Melbourne Papers,” Helix, 13/14 (1983), pp. 179-91.

[34] Pound, “To Social Creditors” (radio broadcast of April 19, 1942), “Ezra Pound Speaking” — Radio Speeches of World War II, edited by Leonard Doob (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978), p. 97.