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Encyclopedia > David F. Houston

David Franklin Houston (February 17, 1866September 2, 1940) was an American academic, businessman and politician.

Contents

Early life

Born in Monroe, South Carolina, he graduated from the College of South Carolina in 1887 and went on to do graduate work at Harvard University, where he received a M.A. in political science in 1892.


Higher education

He taught political science at the University of Texas. Houston became an adjunct member of the faculty in 1894 and was named dean of the faculty in 1899. He then became president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas from 1902 until 1905. In 1905 he returned to UT to become that institution's president, serving until 1908. During his tenure at UT Austin, the school opened a doctoral program and a law school. He left UT to serve as chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.


Under President William McKinley he was on the board of visitors of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Later in life, he was an overseer of Harvard University and on the Columbia University board of trustees.


Politics

Houston served President Woodrow Wilson as United States Secretary of Agriculture from 1913 to 1920 when he became United States Secretary of the Treasury until 1921.


During his time as Agriculture Secretary many important agricultural laws were passed by the U.S. Congress, including the Smith-Lever Act, the Farm Loan Act, the Warehouse Act, and the Federal Aid Road Act.


Houston came to theTreasury Department as World War I was ending and his brief tenure was marked by stormy controversies over federal monetary policies. As ex officio Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, he issued severe warnings and, increased rediscount rates in order to prevent the inflation that the European allies were experiencing. Houston predicted a fall in U.S. prices, particularly of farm products, after the optimism of the Armistice wore off. He pushed for easier credit for farmers and urged them to produce less.


But when prices fell more dramatically than expected in 1920, farm spokesmen unfairly accused Houston of deliberately wrecking agrarian prosperity. Abroad, England and France were pushing to cancel their war debts. Houston, the U.S. Congress and the President, against cancellation, converted the short-term debts to long-term loans. Houston resigned at the end of Wilson's term, after only a year in office.


Business

After leaving the U.S. federal government, Houston became President of Bell Telephone Securities and a vice president at AT&T. Houston also served as a director of the AT&T, the Guaranty Trust Company and the United States Steel Corporation. He was president of the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York for 10 years.


Writings

Houston published A Critical Study of Nullification in South Carolina (1896) to establish his place in academia. He later published a two-volume memoir of his experiences as a cabinet member, Eight Years with Wilson's Cabinet.


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