Telegram from Huey Long, August 16, 1931
The Great Depression hit Texas agriculture with a vengeance. For years, the agricultural economy had been geared almost entirely around "King Cotton." Not only was the fiber sold for textile use, but the cottonseed was crushed for cooking oil, hulls were converted to cattle feed, and portions of the plant were used to make an early type of plastic. Now, the price of cotton plunged to 5 cents a pound -- less than the cost of production. Thousands of farmers faced ruin. Along with them would go the thousands of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, who worked at least 60 percent of the land in cultivation, and the migrant workers from Mexico.
The situation prompted Texas and the other Southern states to seek ways to reduce the production of cotton, in order to drive up the price. The Governor of Louisiana, the irrepressible Huey P. Long, called a conference in August 1931 to come up with a plan to eliminate the planting of the cotton crop for 1932 in order to reduce the glut of the commodity and stimulate demand. This series of telegrams between Long and Governor Sterling gives something of the flavor of the times, as political leaders tried to cope with an economic crisis on a scale no one had ever seen before.
Texas was expected to take a leading role in enacting an "acreage law" to take cotton land out of production. Governor Sterling called a special session of the legislature in September 1931, which passed the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law. The law stipulated that no more than 30 percent of the land in cultivation could be planted in cotton. The measure also included measures for soil conservation, pest eradication, and improvement in the quality of the cotton crop. The law proved difficult to enforce, and in February 1932, it was declared unconstitutional.
Telegram from Huey Long, August 16, 1931, Records of Ross S. Sterling, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.