Early Years and Personal Life
Glass left school in his early teens to enter the newspaper business. He started as a printer's apprentice and then moved up through the ranks to become a reporter for the Lynchburg News in 1880. By 1887 he was the paper's editor. A year later, with help from a relative, he bought the paper and became its publisher as well. Next he bought out the rival paper, the Lynchburg Advance, then edited by his father, and consolidated the two papers. He established a reputation for provocative editorials, challenging those with opposing political views; on one occasion he was nearly shot by the wife of one of his critics.
In 1886 he married Aurelia Caldwell and they had four children. She died in 1937. In 1940, at age eighty-two, Glass married Mary Scott Meade. He was a lifelong Methodist, a member of the Masons and Elks, and raised Jersey cattle on his farm at Montview, in Lynchburg.
Early Political Career
In 1902 Glass was appointed to fill the vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives left by the death of Peter J. Otey, of the Sixth District. Glass was elected to a full term that same year and served the district for the next sixteen years. Although not an active legislator, Glass was placed on the Banking and Currency Committee. He professed ignorance about economics but schooled himself in its intricacies and became an acknowledged authority on the subject. In 1911 he challenged Claude A. Swanson, the former governor and machine stalwart, for Swanson's U.S. Senate seat, but he lost in a hotly contested Democratic primary.
The Federal Reserve Act
Throughout 1913, Glass worked to reconcile his proposed system with the competing desires of the banking industry, which recognized the need for change but preferred the creation of a central bank; Progressives, who insisted on government control of the new banking system based on their distrust of Wall Street and the "money trust"; and Rural Populists, led by William Jennings Bryan, who also rejected private control and demanded short-term agricultural credits for their constituents. Glass held subcommittee hearings and met frequently with Wilson, bankers, and politicians. Wilson eventually sided with the Progressives and insisted on a supervisory government board for the regional banks with government backing of the reserve notes. Although this was not to Glass's liking, he incorporated the president's ideas in his bill.
Secretary of the Treasury
Only days before that vote, Governor Westmoreland Davis had appointed Glass to fill the term of the recently deceased U.S. senator Thomas Staples Martin. Davis hoped that Glass would become his ally against the Democratic political machine, but Glass had grown tired of struggling with Martin and Swanson. When state party leaders offered several olive branches—nomination for president by Virginia delegates at the 1920 Democratic National Convention, no opposition when he ran for the remainder of Martin's term that autumn, and Swanson's support for key Senate committee assignments—Glass accepted, entering into a mutually supportive relationship with the machine that lasted until his death. (Martin's machine later transformed into what became known as the Byrd Organization.) It was a simple matter of deciding which of the competing factions could best secure his political future.
The Glass-Steagall Bills
Throughout the 1920s Glass worried that the Federal Reserve System was not utilizing its powers to regulate the economy, first during the postwar recessions and then during the stock market speculation later in the decade, which the Fed was fueling with its easy credit policy. Thousands of banks failed during the 1920s, most of them small state banks that did not belong to the reserve system. Glass wanted to move more banks into the system and strengthen the Board's ability to control speculative credit. The stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression presented the opportunity to achieve his reforms.
The second Glass-Steagall bill passed a year later and had a much more significant impact on the nation's economic order. In 1931–1932, Glass's subcommittee of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee held hearings on the causes of the crash and the need for structural changes in the banking system. The result was legislation that incorporated most of Glass's ideas for rejuvenating the Fed—nationwide branch banking, greater control over speculative credit, and a separation of banks' investment affiliates from their commercial or deposit operations. After a year of contentious debate, during which hundreds of banks failed, the Glass bill passed the Senate in January 1933, but died in the House over the issue of guaranteed bank deposits.
The election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the revelations of the Senate investigation into stock market speculation by banks (the so-called Pecora investigation), and the worsening depression revived interest in the Glass bill. The hang-up once again was government guarantee of deposits, which Representative Steagall had included in his bill. Although Roosevelt and Glass opposed such a measure, they eventually conceded the popularity of the issue and agreed to a graduated, less-than-100 percent insurance plan to be underwritten by a new Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The final bill, significantly amended to appease the small bank constituency, passed in June 1933. Although it fell short of Glass's hopes for a more comprehensive Federal Reserve System, much of it endured to the end of the century, a tribute to his perseverance.
Glass and FDR
This rift turned into a chasm when Roosevelt proposed a series of programs, known collectively as the New Deal, meant to address the problems created by the Great Depression. Claiming that "Roosevelt is driving this country to destruction faster than it has ever moved before," Glass voted against almost every measure advanced by the president, including the Agricultural Adjustment Act, public works programs, social security, and the Wagner Labor Act. Responding to the National Recovery Administration's efforts to revive the economy, Glass refused to place its symbol—a blue eagle—on the masthead of his Lynchburg newspaper as required by federal code, calling it a "blue buzzard." Glass was particularly incensed when the president took the country off the gold standard. He likely influenced his new Senate colleague, Harry F. Byrd, to join him in dissent. The two became identified as leaders of an anti–New Deal coalition. The Virginia Federation of Labor labeled them "anti anything."
Roosevelt's and Glass's relationship softened with the onset of World War II. Ever the internationalist, Glass believed the United States should forcefully deal with the aggression of Nazi Germany. He endorsed repeal of the Neutrality Act of 1939 and he pushed through Roosevelt's requests for rearmament. Having to battle the isolationists, Roosevelt appreciated Glass's support.
January 4, 1858 - Carter Glass is born in Lynchburg to Robert Henry Glass and Augusta Elizabeth Christian Glass.
1880 - Carter Glass becomes a reporter for the Lynchburg News.
1881 - Carter Glass is appointed as clerk of the Lynchburg city council.
1886 - Carter Glass and Aurelia Caldwell marry. They will have four children.
1887 - Carter Glass becomes editor of the Lynchburg News.
1888 - With help from a relative, Carter Glass buys the Lynchburg News and becomes its publisher. Later he buys the Lynchburg Advance and consolidates the two papers.
1899–1902 - Carter Glass, a Lynchburg Democrat, serves in the Senate of Virginia.
June 12, 1901–June 26, 1902 - An elected body of 100 delegates convenes in Richmond for a constitutional convention, and debates for almost a year.
1902 - Carter Glass is appointed to fill an unexpired term in Congress, representing the Sixth District.
November 4, 1902–December 16, 1918 - Carter Glass serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1911 - Carter Glass attempts to unseat Claude A. Swanson in the U.S. Senate, but loses in the Democratic primary.
December 23, 1913 - President Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Reserve Act into law.
December 16, 1918–January 31, 1920 - Carter Glass serves as secretary of the treasury under President Woodrow Wilson.
November 18, 1919 - Governor Westmoreland Davis appoints Carter Glass to fill the U.S. Senate term of the recently deceased Thomas S. Martin.
February 2, 1920–May 28, 1946 - Carter Glass serves in the U.S. Senate.
February 1932 - Congress passes the first Glass-Steagall bill.
January 1933 - The second Glass-Steagall bill passes in the U.S. Senate, but dies in the U.S. House of Representatives.
June 16, 1933 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the Banking Act of 1933, which was sponsored by Senator Carter Glass, of Virginia, and Representative Henry B. Steagall, of Alabama.
1937 - Aurelia Caldwell Glass, the wife of Carter Glass, dies.
1940 - Carter Glass and Mary Scott Meade marry. Glass is eighty-two years old.
July 1941 - Carter Glass is elected president pro tempore of the Senate.
May 28, 1946 - Carter Glass dies in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Heinemann, R. L. Carter Glass (1858–1946). (2015, August 20). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Glass_Carter_1858-1946.
- MLA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald L. "Carter Glass (1858–1946)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 11, 2015 | Last modified: August 20, 2015
Contributed by Ronald L. Heinemann, a professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College.