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- J. F. T. O'Connor Papers
J. F. T. O'Connor Papers, 1906-1954
"O'CONNOR, James Francis Thaddeus, comptroller of the currency, was born in Grand Forks, N.Dak., Nov. 10, 1884, son of Edward and Honora (Lane) O'Connor. His father emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the 186O's and came to the United States before 1884, settling near Grand Forks, where he was a farmer. James F. T. O'Connor was graduated A.B. in 1907 and LL.B. in 1908 at the University of North Dakota, and LL.B. in 1909 and M.A. in 1910 at Yale University. From 1909 to 1912 he was on the Yale faculty as instructor in rhetoric. Meanwhile, in 1908 he was admitted to the bar in North Dakota, and upon leaving Yale he returned to that state and practiced law in Grand Forks as a member of the firm of O'Connor & Johnson until 1921 and of O'Connor & Peterson from that year to 1925. During 1918-24 he was also active as special lecturer on evidence and pleading in the law department of the University of North Dakota. In 1925 O'Connor moved to Los Angeles, Calif., where he engaged in law practice until 1930 as a member of the firm of McAdoo, Neblett, O'Connor & Clagett and thereafter until 1933 as a member of the firm of Mulvane & O'Connor. He first attained public office in 1916, when he was elected to the North Dakota legislature. He was re-elected to that body in 1918 without opposition. His stand against the radicalism of the Farmer's Non-Partisan League in the period he was serving in the legislature won for him the fusion (Democratic-Republican) nomination for governor of North Dakota in 1920, but he was defeated for that office. O'Connor assumed office as comptroller of the United States currency in May, 1933, on appointment of Franklin D. Roosevelt (q.v.) after having twice previously declined Roosevelt's appointment to that post. During the final three weeks of the administration of Herbert Hoover there had developed a nation-wide banking crisis, starting with a run on two large banks in Detroit, which led to the declaration of a so-called bank holiday by the governor of Michigan. Similar action followed elsewhere as the crisis worsened, and by the time of Roosevelt's inauguration on March 4th there was a virtual suspension of banking operations throughout the country, with all of the banks in thirty-eight states closed by order of their governors and those in the ten other states operating on a severely restricted basis. On March 5th the new President declared a national bank holiday to last through March 9th. This action was promptly ratified by Congress, which extended the banking moratorium beyond the latter date so that the ban could be lifted gradually, enabling sound banks to reopen immediately and those in an unsafe condition to be reorganized, liquidated, or merged with stronger banks by federal conservators. No less than 1417 national banks, which owed their depositors an aggregate of more than $2 billion, were found to be insolvent and were not permitted to reopen. It became one of O'Connor's tasks as comptroller of the currency to effect a banking recovery, and he assumed direction of the reorganization of those insolvent banks that could be saved through the addition of new capital, which was secured locally or from federal sources; the guiding of mergers with stronger banks where such a course was found to be a practical solution; and the effecting of an orderly liquidation of those insolvent banks that could not be saved by other measures. One practice which O'Connor conceived to aid liquidation was the use of sound trucks to advertise real estate frozen in the banks whose assets were to be liquidated, and the liquidation was so efficiently handled that ninety-three cents of each dollar collected was paid to depositors, only seven per cent having been absorbed by receivership expenses. By 1937 some $1.5 billion had been repaid to depositors in the insolvent banks. He also helped organize the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was established under the Banking Act of 1933. As comptroller of the currency, he served as one of the corporation's three directors until January, 1938. The corporation was created to insure the deposits of all banks which were entitled to the benefits of insurance under the law. Its major functions were to pay depositors of insured banks that closed without adequate provision having been made to pay claims of their depositors and to act as receiver for all suspended national banks and for suspended state banks, when appointed by state authorities. The corporation could also make loans to or purchase assets from the insured banks when such transactions would facilitate a merger or consolidation and thereby reduce a probable loss to the corporation. O'Connor was credited with having set up the organization plans which made possible the successful examination of state banks in the months proceeding Jan. 1, 1934, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation became operative. In addition, he served as ex-officio member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System. He was named to the bench of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in 1940, having resigned as comptroller of the United States currency in January 1938. Among the notable cases he heard as a federal judge were the acquittal of Charlie Chaplin on Mann Act charges in 1944 and the conviction of Serge M. Rubinstein of draft evasion in New York City in 1947. He was a member of the committee for the Warm Springs Foundation. Honorary LL.D. degrees were conferred on him by the University of North Dakota in 1934, Southern Methodist University in 1935, John Marshall College in 1937, and College of the Pacific and the University of the West in 1938. He was also honored by being included in the North Dakota Hall of Fame. Politically a Democrat, he was a delegate to the party's national conventions in 1916 and 1924. In 1932 he managed Roosevelt's primary campaign in California, and he served as chairman of the California Committee for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Inc. He was the author of 'Banks Under Roosevelt.' O'Connor represented California at a meeting on behalf of the United Service Organizations in Washington, D.C., in 1941. He was a member of the American, California State, and Los Angeles bar associations, Western League of Oratory, BPOE, Knights of Columbus, Phi Alpha Delta, Phi Delta Theta, Delta Sigma Rho, the Casa Del Mar Club of Santa Monica, Calif., and the Jonathan, Breakfast, and California Country clubs of Los Angeles. His religious affiliation was with the Roman Catholic church. He found his chief recreation in walking and playing golf. He was unmarried. James F. T. O'Connor died in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 28, 1949."
Source: The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. v53. New York: James L. White, 1971.
The J. F. T. O'Connor Papers date from 1906-1954, and consist of biographical materials, correspondence, speeches, legal and financial materials, and fifteen scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. The scrapbooks document events in both O'Connor's professional career and personal life. Researchers should note that the dates of the clippings within each scrapbook do not always follow strict chronological lines.
Also included is a framed photograph of O'Connor, measuring 171/2 inches by 215/8 inches. The photograph was inscribed by O'Connor to UND President John C. West. The inscription reads: "To my friend Pres. John C. West, with high esteem. J. F. T. O'Connor, Comptroller of Currency, Wash. D.C. Feb. 25-1938".