In 1931 Iowa farmers decided to fight back against the impact of the Great Depression. In Logan 500 farmers joined forces outside the courthouse to prevent the sale of Ernest Ganzhorn's farm. At Storm Lake "rope-swinging farmers came close to hanging a lawyer conducting a foreclosure". At Le Mars in Plymouth County, six hundred farmers marched on the courthouse and dragged a judge out of his courtroom, placed a noose around his neck, and threatened to hang him unless he stopped approving farm foreclosures. Other mob incidents took place in Willmar, Minnesota and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Milo Reno emerged as the leader of this rebellion and in the summer of 1932 he established the Farmers' Holiday Association. His idea was to withhold farm products from the market, in essence creating a farmers' strike. The main slogan was "Lets call a Farmer's Holiday, a Holiday let's hold. We'll eat our wheat and ham and eggs, And let them eat their gold." On 8th August Reno called the first "farm holiday," a strike for higher prices. Pickets blockaded the roads into several Iowa cities and stopped trucks carrying farm produce to market.
William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has argued: "Milo Reno... helped organize farmers to refuse to ship food into Sioux City for thirty days or until such time as they got the 'cost of production'. Farmers blocked highways with logs and spiked telegraph poles, smashed windshields and headlights, and punctured tires with their pitchforks. When authorities in Council Bluffs arrested fifty-five pickets, one thousands angry farmers threatened to storm the jail, and the pickets were released on bail. In Nebraska, where farmers carried placards reading 'Be Pickets or Peasants,' strikers halted a freight train and took off a carload of cattle."
On 26th October, 1932, Reno's association declared a moratorium on tax and mortgage payments, and this developed into a strike against farm mortgage foreclosures. According to the New York Times the leader of the Farmers' Holiday Association (FHA) in Nebraska argued: "If we don't get beneficial service from the Legislature 200,000 of us are coming to Lincoln and we'll tear the new State Capitol Building to pieces." Governor William Langer of North Dakota, in an effort to reduce tension, mobilized the militia to halt foreclosures.
Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was vague about what he would do about the economic depression, he easily beat his unpopular Republican rival. William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has argued: "Franklin Roosevelt swept to victory with 22,800,000 votes to Hoover's 15,750,000. With a 472-59 margin in the Electoral College, he captured every state south and west of Pennsylvania. Roosevelt carried more counties than a presidential candidate had ever won before, including 282 that had never gone Democratic. Of the forty states in Hoover's victory coalition four years before, the President held but six."
Roosevelt appointed Henry A. Wallace as Secretary of Agriculture. On 8th March 1933, Wallace met with Roosevelt and asked him to expand the scope of the special congressional session to include the agricultural crisis as well as the banking emergency. Roosevelt agreed to this suggestion and it was agreed to summon the nation's farm leaders to an "emergency conference" to be held in Washington. Wallace went on national radio and told the country: "Today, in this country, men are fighting to save their homes. That is not just a figure of speech. That is a brutal fact, a bitter commentary on agriculture's twelve years' struggle.... Emergency action is imperative."
On 11th March, Wallace reported: "The farm leaders were unanimous in their opinion that the agricultural emergency calls for prompt and drastic action.... The farm groups agree that farm production must be adjusted to consumption, and favor the principles of the so-called domestic allotment plan as a means of reducing production and restoring buying power." The conference also called for emergency legislation granting Wallace extraordinarily broad authority to act, including power to control production, buy up surplus commodities, regulate marketing and production, and levy excise taxes to pay for it all.
John C. Culver and John C. Hyde, the authors of American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (2001) have pointed out: "The sense of urgency was hardly theoretical. A true crisis was at hand. Across the Corn Belt, rebellion was being expressed in ever more violent terms. In the first two months of 1933, there were at least seventy-six instances in fifteen states of so-called penny auctions, in which mobs of farmers gathered at foreclosure sales and intimidated legitimate bidders into silence. One penny auction in Nebraska drew an astounding crowd of two thousand farmers. In Wisconsin farmers bent on stopping a farm sale were confronted by deputies armed with tear gas and machine guns. A lawyer representing the New York Life Insurance Company was dragged from the courthouse in Le Mars, Iowa, and the sheriff who tried to help him was roughed up by a mob."
On 27th April at Le Mars in Plymouth County, a mob of six hundred farmers marched on the local courthouse. A spokesman for the group asked the judge to promise that he would not sign any more foreclosure orders. Judge Charles C. Bradley said he had as much sympathy for the farmers who had lost their property, but that he did not make the laws. The men did not like this answer and dragged Bradley of his courtroom and taken to a crossroads outside of town, where his trousers were removed and he was threatened with mutilation. A noose was pulled tight around his neck, and the mob demanded that the strangling judge promise no further foreclosures. The sixty-year old Bradley bravely replied: "I will do the fair thing to all men to the best of my knowledge." Bradley was just about to be hanged when he was saved by a local newspaper editor who had just arrived in his car.
The case made the front page of the New York Times. Governor Clyde Herring declared martial law and sent troops to the town. Milo Reno claimed that the Farmers' Holiday Association had nothing to do with the incident. His statement was widely disbelieved when the president of the Plymouth County Farmers Holiday Association was one of the 86 men arrested. Reno and his followers were heavily criticized and he lost considerable popular support. However, Henry A. Wallace was now seen as a moderate and his bill was now passed by Congress.
Milo Reno... helped organize farmers to refuse to ship food into Sioux City for thirty days or until such time as they got the 'cost of production'. Farmers blocked highways with logs and spiked telegraph poles, smashed windshields and headlights, and punctured tires with their pitchforks. When authorities in Council Bluffs arrested fifty-five pickets, one thousands angry farmers threatened to storm the jail, and the pickets were released on bail. In Nebraska, where farmers carried placards reading 'Be Pickets or Peasants,' strikers halted a freight train and took off a carload of cattle.