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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Andrew Mellon's Tax Trial

Continuing with "Article Ideas for Anyone Who Wants Them," I give you the tax trial of former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in the mid-1930s.

Andrew Mellon was one of America's leading bankers. In 1921, he became the Treasury Secretary and held that post for 11 years under three different Republican Presidents. Mellon was the most influential Treasury Secretary other than Hamilton, and became identified with the policies that led to the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. (He was also a prolific art collector and created the National Gallery).

After he left office, the DOJ sought to indict Mellon on tax fraud charges. A grand jury refused to return a true bill (by an 11-10 vote). Then a civil tax trial ensued, with Robert Jackson (in his first big government post) making the government's case. This was a big media event at the time, which ended with Mellon's estate paying several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes.

I highlight the case for a few reasons. First, there's a great story here. Andrew Mellon! Robert Jackson! And grand jurors doing something pretty unusual. Second, I've thought of this example in the past few years when people say that in America we don't use law enforcement to go after political enemies. While that's generally true, there are some notable counterexamples. Mellon's case may be one, as there is some evidence that he was targeted by the Roosevelt Administration because he was a high-profile Republican Cabinet officer.

I suspect that nobody has given a good account of the case because . . . well . . . it's about taxes. Mellon's biographer did tell that story but in a way that may have been too favorable to his subject. A tax scholar and a con law scholar should get together and write this paper.   

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on July 18, 2020 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

Comments

Matt Stoller's book Goliath, whatever you may think of it otherwise, has a good chapter that centers on the Mellon trial.

Posted by: other joe | Jul 23, 2020 1:04:15 PM

Two background material links:

https://www.roberthjackson.org/lesson-plan/the-andrew-mellon-case-1934-1937/

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/DC-Decoder/2013/0517/Playing-the-IRS-card-Six-presidents-who-used-the-IRS-to-bash-political-foes/President-Calvin-Coolidge-R

Posted by: Joe | Jul 19, 2020 10:32:47 PM

Just worth to note, that, I quote Wikipedia:

" In early 1932, Congressman Wright Patman of Texas initiated impeachment proceedings against Mellon, contending that Mellon had violated numerous federal laws designed to prevent conflicts of interest. Though Mellon had defeated similar investigations in the past, his falling popularity left him unable to effectively counter Patman's charges. Hoover removed Mellon from Washington by offering him the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom. Mellon accepted the post, and Mills replaced his former boss as Secretary of the Treasury.[92]"

One may read about the impeachment, here:

https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/72736670.pdf

Thanks

Posted by: El roam | Jul 19, 2020 6:37:24 AM

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