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Land Management

Former Humboldt attorney drafts bill that closed mortgages for two years

Dayton Review of Dayton, Iowa

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During depression on Iowa farm land...

Editor's note: John Mitchell was raised to help others, became a lawyer, was elected to the State Legislature, became Speaker of the House and eventually the Attorney General of Iowa. He was able to help farmers and others during the Great Depression in Iowa.

I sat quietly at my desk as memories came flooding back. After leaving a message with my secretary not to be disturbed, I easily let my mind drift back to the days when hard times were upon the land. Times the like of which the people had never seen or even imagined.

At the time it had ah seemed so impossible that everyone was in such bad shape financially. The streets that once boasted of being paved with gold now only appeared to be what they were — wood, gravel and stone.

The Depression came as unexpectedly as does a sudden and tragic death. Wages having risen in the 1920's, everyone believed this to be the beginning of a golden era. Credit buying quickly became a way of life. The stock market was steadily on the gain and people were making good returns on their investments.

Then the bottom dropped. The stock market crashed due to over speculation and credit buying. Twelve million Americans had lost their jobs, and even worse, started losing their homes because their rent could not be paid.

In Iowa, as across the nation, our farmers were in deep trouble as they began losing the land which had been in their families for generations, land which their great-grandfathers had homesteaded. The public auctions which were held were a terrible ordeal. All the farmers who attended would watch as neighbor alter neighbor would have their property sold for back taxes and mortgage defaults. Frustrations were many and tempers were hot.

But there were people, who cared about what was happening and I was glad I was one man who decided to take affirmative steps so that farmers would no longer have to suffer the loss of their land.

I was raised in a family constantly concerned with helping others. My father, a lawyer, had a natural inclination towards aiding others and preventing injustices. Having learned all of this as a boy, I decided to follow in my father's footsteps, attending Loras and the University of Iowa to become a lawyer.

I started my practice in Humboldt and later became a partner in my father's law firm. Yet I was still not satisfied. I wanted to do more than just talk about the problems I saw. I entered the field of politics and was elected to the State Legislature.

I spent hours talking to people trying to rectify the situation. As in any problem, I was met with help from some and opposition from others who enjoyed being able to buy land at such cheap prices at someone else's expense.

Even with all this I drafted a bill and introduced it into the House. This bill extended for two years the closing of mortgages on farm land. It was a strong bill, one that certainly received the support of the farmers and the publics sympathy. In fact the fanners marched on the Capitol grounds to demonstrate their approval.

The bill passed and after receiving approval of the House and Senate, was signed into law by the Governor.

As time passed I moved on to become Speaker of the House and Attorney General of Iowa. But even years later I will still tell you my proudest and greatest accomplishment was being able to pass the bill that let our farmers keep their land during those terrible years called the Great Depression.

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Original Publication Date: September 23, 2015

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