Wright Patman, lawyer and congressman, the son of John N. and Emma (Spurlin) Patman, was born near Hughes Springs in Cass County, Texas, on August 6, 1893. After graduating from Hughes Springs High School in 1912, he enrolled in Cumberland University Law School in Lebanon, Tennessee. He received his law degree in 1916 and was admitted to the Texas bar the same year. Patman began his political career in the late teens, as assistant county attorney for Cass County, and in 1920 he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. After two terms in the legislature he was elected district attorney of the Fifth Judicial District and occupied the office for four years. In 1928 he won election as a Democrat to the United States House, representing the First Texas Congressional District, which included Marshall, Paris, and Texarkana.
Shortly after Patman was sworn in as a member of Congress, the Great Depression broke out. He soon emerged as a scathing critic of the economic policies of President Herbert Hoover and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. His most noteworthy legislative initiative during the Hoover administration was the Veteran's Bonus (Patman) Bill, which mandated the immediate cash payment of the endowment promised to servicemen of World War I. The bill failed during Hoover's term but eventually passed in 1936. Throughout the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Patman favored nearly all of the numerous New Deal economic and social reforms. He later was a consistent supporter of the domestic programs of presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. He coauthored the Federal Anti-Price Discrimination (Robinson-Patman) Act, a landmark antitrust measure prohibiting retail stores from restraining competition by charging unreasonably low prices. He was also instrumental in the passage of the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934, the Full Employment Act of 1946, the British Loan Act of 1946, the Defense Production Act of 1950, and the Housing Acts of 1946, 1949, 1961, and 1965. Patman was chairman of the Select Committee on Small Businesses (1955–63) and the Joint Economic Committee (1957–59, 1961–63, 1965–67, 1969–71, and 1973–75). He wielded his foremost influence, however, as chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency from 1963 to 1975. He was the first to call for the investigation of Penn Central (1970) and Watergate (1972). Altogether Patman was elected by his constituents to twenty-four terms in Congress. During his final two terms in the House, he had the distinction of being the senior member of Congress. Notwithstanding the fact that he had compiled a generally liberal voting record, he was considered unsympathetic to the demand that House procedures be modernized. In early 1975 he was removed from his chairmanship of the Banking and Currency Committee by the House Democratic Caucus.
Patman married Merle Connor in February 1919, and the couple had four sons, one of whom died young. Merle died in 1967, and Patman married Pauline Tucker in 1968. He died on March 7, 1976, at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland. One of his three sons, William N. Patman, was a state senator from 1961 to 1980 and a congressman from the Fourteenth District of Texas from 1981 to 1985.
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The Almanac of American Politics, 1976 (New York: Dutton, 1975). Biographical Directory of the American Congress. Current Biography, 1946. Wright Patman Papers, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin. Janet Schmelzer, The Early Life and Early Congressional Career of Wright Patman, 1893–1941 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Christian University, 1978).
Texas in the 1920s
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Philip A. Grant, Jr.,
“Patman, John William Wright,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 08, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
September 1, 1995