George Nelson Peek (November 19, 1873 – December 17, 1943) was an American agricultural economist, business executive, and civil servant. He was the first Administrator of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and the first President of the two banks that would become the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
George Nelson Peek
November 19, 1873
|Died||December 17, 1943 (aged 70)|
|Occupation||Economist; Business executive; Civil servant|
Early life and business careerEdit
Peek was born in Polo, Illinois, on November 19, 1873; His father was a farmer. Peek graduated from Oregon High School in Oregon, Illinois. He attended Northwestern University from 1891 to 1892, but did not graduate.
He joined the Deere & Webber Company of Minneapolis in 1893, and was named Vice President of the John Deere Plow manufacturing division in Omaha, Nebraska in 1901. In 1911, he was named President of the Deere & Co. subsidiary in Moline, Illinois. In 1919, he left Deere & Co. and became President of the Moline Plow Company, where he earned the relatively large salary of $100,000 a year. He immediately hired retired Brigadier General Hugh S. Johnson as the company's general counsel. Peek and Johnson were deeply interested in farm economics, especially since the post-World War I recession. Peek and Johnson became strong advocates of the McNary–Haugen Farm Relief Bill, proposed federal legislation which would have established the first national system of price supports for agriculture.
Peek was a member of the War Industries Board during World War I, and after the war was a member of the Industrial Board advising the United States Department of Commerce on post-war reconversion.
New Deal careerEdit
When the Republican Party refused to support the legislation, Peek became a Democrat. His support for the McNary-Haugen bill led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to appoint him Administrator of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in 1933. Peek had sought the United States Secretary of Agriculture position, but that had gone to Henry A. Wallace. Instead, Bernard Baruch (who knew Peek from their service on the War Industries Board together) convinced Roosevelt to put Peek in charge of the AAA. Peek fought with Wallace over the administration of the agency. Peek asked Roosevelt to make the AAA an independent agency rather than part of the United States Department of Agriculture; Wallace convinced Roosevelt to deny the request. Peek demanded full authority to run the AAA; Wallace withheld it. Wallace installed Jerome Frank, a liberal young lawyer whom Peek loathed, as the AAA's general counsel. Peek also disagreed with one of the three fundamental programs created by the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The Act created three programs designed to boost farm prices: 1) It established marketing programs designed to increase the purchase of American agricultural products overseas; 2) It established a system of price supports; and 3) It established a system of incentives to discourage overproduction. In order for farmers to participate in the price support program, they must agree to cut production. Peek was adamantly opposed to the production quotas, which he saw as a form of socialism. Instead, Peek preferred to promote informal cartels of large producers and large food processing companies, which together would collude to boost prices. Wallace repeatedly denied Peek the authority to institute such cartels, however. When the Commodity Credit Corporation was established in the early fall of 1933, Roosevelt refused to make it part of the AAA out of concern for Peek's attitudes. On November 15, 1933, and again on November 25, Peek demanded that Wallace fire Frank for insubordination; Wallace refused and threatened to have one of Peek's most trusted aides fired instead. In early December 1933, while Wallace was out of town, Peek announced a marketing program designed to sell American butter in Europe at rates below the national domestic price. Rexford Tugwell, Acting Secretary of Agriculture in Wallace's absence, rescinded the program. Wallace quickly convinced many of Roosevelt's top advisors to ask for Peek's resignation. Tugwell himself threatened to resign if Peek were not fired.
Faced with a united front, Peek resigned from the AAA on December 11, 1933. One reporter called the forced resignation "the coolest political murder that has been committed since Roosevelt came into office." The same day, President Roosevelt named Peek his Special Advisor on Foreign Trade.
President Roosevelt created the Export-Import Bank of Washington by executive order on February 2, 1934, and named Peek president of the bank. Roosevelt created a Second Export-Import Bank of Washington via executive order on March 9, 1934, and named Peek president of the second bank as well. Peek's tenure at the Export-Import Bank was also short-lived. He clashed repeatedly with United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull over a series of reciprocal trade agreements in 1935, and resigned from the bank on December 2, 1935.
Retirement and deathEdit
- Culver and Hyde, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace, 2001, p.122; Saloutos, Theodore. The American Farmer and the New Deal. Ames, Ia.: Iowa State University Press, 1982, p. 53. ISBN 0-8138-1076-0; Volanto, Keith Joseph. Texas, Cotton, and the New Deal. College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press, 2005, p. 34. ISBN 1-58544-402-2
- Becker and McLenahan, The Market, the State, and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, 1934-2000, 2003, p. 16.
- Shearer, Benjamin F. Home Front Heroes: A Biographical Dictionary of Americans During Wartime. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-313-33423-4
- "George N. Peek, 70, Farm Expert, Dies." New York Times. December 18, 1943.
- Halcrow, Harold G. "Reviewed work(s): George N. Peek and the Fight for Farm Parity by Gilbert C. Fite." Journal of Farm Economics. 36:3 (August 1954).
- "Peek, George N. (1873-1943), Papers, 1900-1947" (PDF). The State Historical Society of Missouri.
- "Republicans: Back to Beginning." Time. October 12, 1936.
- Hamby, Alonzo L. For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004. ISBN 0-684-84340-4
- Leffingwell, Randy. American Farm Tractor. St. Paul, Minn.: MBI Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1370-9; Nelson, Daniel. Farm and Factory: Workers in the Midwest, 1880-1990. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-253-32883-7
- Cuff, Robert D. "A 'Dollar-a-Year Man' in Government: George N. Peek and the War Industries Board." Business History Review. 41:4 (Winter 1967).
- Culver, John C. and Hyde, John. American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace. Reprint ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. ISBN 0-393-32228-9
- Peek referred to Frank and his like-minded colleagues as "Lenin baby chicks" for what Peek saw as their support of communism. See: Culver and Hyde, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace, 2001, p. 125.
- Cochrane, Willard Wesley. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis. 2d ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8166-2283-3
- "The New Dealers." Pittsburgh Press. May 9, 1934.
- Becker, William H. and McLenahan, William M. The Market, the State, and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, 1934-2000. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-81143-0
- Rosenberg, Emily S. and Foner, Eric. Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945. New York: Macmillan, 1982. ISBN 0-8090-0146-2
- Butler, Michael A. Cautious Visionary: Cordell Hull and Trade Reform, 1933-1937. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-87338-596-9
- "Job Offered Jones As Peek Quits Bank." New York Times. December 3, 1935.
- Why Quit Our Own. By George Nelson Peek with Samuel Crowther [On the desirability of a balanced domestic economy in the United States]. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1936.