Government Intervention in U.S. Agriculture: Part 7

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Butler that the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was in violation of the Constitution, the law would be replaced by a new Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. Its updated provisions were intended to be permanent, unless amended by any future legislation.

It had some notable changes that were tailored to wartime, as well as a continuation of the price control initiatives from the original legislation. The law also defined the phrase “basic agricultural commodity” therein to include wheat, field corn, hogs, rice, and milk, as well as several other non-edible crops. So the issue of constitutionality was technically overcome, with funding for the AAA now to be provided through direct taxation, rather than taxes only on food processors as before.

The fundamental principle behind the legislation, of course, remained the same. In practice, the AAA of 1938 would once again allow the federal government to seize crop property from a less privileged class, and hand it over to a more privileged class of agriculturalists.

Only 17 years later, in the 1955 case of Blattner v. United States, the problems of the legislation would resurface in the public realm. The plaintiff, Joseph Blattner, argued that the federal government’s exercise of powers granted under the new AAA violated his right to due process, in addition to violating the principle of just compensation for the seizing of private property. Blattner, a Pennsylvanian farmer, was originally fined a total of $179.20 (about $1,556.45 in 2013 terms), purely for the private production of wheat. “I won’t pay,” Blattner affirmed in a 1955 article by The Freeman, adding that “a man still has a right, if he don’t [sic] obligate himself to government, to farm the way he likes.”

A significant amount of support was generated across the country, with Blattner’s own house eventually becoming a regular location for meetings, bringing a host of media outlets in to report on what would remain a popular story for a number of weeks. J. Kennard Weaver, his attorney, argued that the Agricultural Adjustment Act should most properly be designated as class legislation, pointing to the basic fact that it seized crop property from poultry farmers and handed it over to privileged wheat farmers. Blattner’s case, however, would end up being dismissed, with the Supreme Court simply citing the plaintiff’s failure to present a claim that suggested some kind of recompense for his being wronged.

Read Freedom Bunker on Monday for the conclusion to this 8-part series! I’ll be discussing more detrimental effects of U.S. farm policies and what it means for us today.

In the case of Blattner v. United States (1955), farmer Joseph Blattner argued that the federal government’s exercise of powers granted under the AAA violated his right to due process and that his private property was taken without just compensation.

In the case of Blattner v. United States (1955), farmer Joseph Blattner argued that the federal government’s exercise of powers granted under the AAA violated his right to due process and that his private property was taken without just compensation. Photo: David Lat.