Charles Coughlin was born Charles Edward Coughlin on October 25, 1891 in Hamilton, Ontario. His parents were both Irish and staunchly Catholic. He decided to join the clergy after school and he was ordained by the church in Toronto in 1916.
After becoming ordained, Coughlin spent several years teaching courses at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario. In 1923, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked as a priest. In 1926, he moved to a unique new medium, the radio. The CBS radio network sponsored him, allowing him to broadcast a sermon every week on his own program. Over the next several years, his popularity grew and he was soon one of the best known radio personalities and priests in the United States.
In 1931, CBS decided to cancel his show, but he called on his fans for support. After a fundraising campaign, he started his own radio broadcasting network that reached millions of people in North America. During his programs, he started focusing more and more on politics, rather than religion and theology. During the 1932 presidential election campaigns, he vocally supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
After FDR was elected President, Coughlin supported his New Deal program, saying that "The New Deal is Christ's Deal". However, his preaching was not always on a light note, as he had plenty of negative comments to make about Wall Street, international bankers, and the Federal Reserve System. At this time, his show's audience was phenomenal and he received tremendous amounts of letters, sometimes as many as 80,000 per week.
By the mid 1930s, Coughlin had changed his stance on the New Deal program and he began referring to FDR as a tool of the stock market brokers. He also vocally supported US Senator Huey Long, who proposed heavily taxing corporations to redistribute the wealth. In 1936, Coughlin helped to found a political party, the Union Party, which supported their candidate William Lemke in a bid for the Presidency. He declared that he would retire from radio if Lemke did not get 9 million votes from the people of America, but only briefly left radio when Lemke received only 900,000 votes.
Coughlin also began displaying his anti-semitic beliefs in his radio shows. He stated that the Russian Revolution was caused by Jewish influences. He also blamed Jewish people for causing the Depression, citing an "international conspiracy of Jewish bankers". He also strongly supported the governments of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini prior to World War 2. In the late 1930s, Coughlin began supporting a group called the "Christian Front", which was later broken up by the FBI after they found that the group was arming themselves with weaponry and preparing to establish a dictatorship in the United States similar to Hitler's. This scandal had a large negative impact on his popularity.
After Kristallnacht occurred in Germany in late 1938, during which Jewish businesses were destroyed and numerous Jews were beaten and killed, Coughlin implied support of the Germans. He said that "Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted." This caused a backlash by various radio stations that began refusing to air his show unless his script was pre-approved. His declining popularity in the United States was offset by a rise in popularity in Germany, where he was regarded as a hero. Some investigators have claimed that Coughlin received funding from the German government to continue operating in the United States.
The FDR administration was not pleased with Coughlin and sought to get him off the air. However, they decided to avoid oppressing free speech and instead passed regulations that required radio operators to get permits from the US government. Coughlin's permit was denied, but he managed to work around the law by purchasing air time from other people and having his speeches played from records. In October of 1939, the National Association of Broadcasters set forth new rules that restricted the ability of people to purchase air time and required purchasers to get their scripts approved before hand. Radio stations that did not comply with these new rules could potentially lose their operating license.
After this ruling, Coughlin gave up on radio, but he did not give up entirely. He continued to print his newsletter, "Social Justice" and distribute it through the mail. However, this attempt was once again blocked by the FDR administration, which revoked his ability to mail the newsletter. He would still be able to publish what he wanted, but he was banned from using the United States Postal Service to transmit the published works. In 1942, the bishop of Detroit ordered Coughlin to return to his duties as a priest and he gave up. He was appointed pastor of the "Shrine of the Little Flower" until he retired from the church in 1966. He died on October 27, 1979 in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.