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The Unlikely Reformer

Carter Glass and Financial Regulation
Matthew P. Fink

BUY Paper · 280 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9781942695165 · $32.00 · May 2019
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9781942695172 · $32.00 · May 2019

Recently described as "the single most important lawmaker in the history of American finance," Carter Glass nonetheless remains a much misunderstood and overlooked figure in that history. Glass is most widely remembered as the sponsor (with Henry Steagall) of the Glass-Steagall provisions of the U.S.A. Banking Act of 1933, which legally separated commercial and investment banking. But the Banking Act was the culminating achievement of a monumental career as a congressman, secretary of the Treasury, and senator—a career marked by ferocity and paradox.

Glass was a small-government conservative and vocal racist who was, however, also responsible for some of the most important progressive pieces of financial legislation in U.S. history, including the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which created mechanisms for addressing financial panics and managing the nation’s currency, and provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the model New Deal agency. In The Unlikely Reformer, Matthew Fink explains how these apparent contradictions emerged together at a pivotal moment in the modern American era. As the first new study dedicated to Carter Glass published in over seventy-five years, it updates our perspective on the welter of assumptions, beliefs, and motivations underpinning a regulatory project that continues to be topical in the tumultuous contemporary moment.


Matthew P. Fink’s compact, well-written biography of a master politician shows how Glass’s ability to compromise helped him make his mark on American finance.... Fink uses compelling anecdotes, eye-catching illustrations, and pertinent private correspondence to enliven this biography.

Journal of Southern History

The Unlikely Reformer is a welcome addition to the growing stack of books that explore the foundations of financial regulations by the federal government in the first half of the twentieth century and how matters got out of hand in the second half leading to the 2008-2009 disaster. It is also a reminder that southern progressivism always had its limits long before the civil rights struggles began.

Michael E. Parrish, Emeritus University of California, San Diego · Journal of American History

About the Author(s): 

Matthew P. Fink is the author of The Rise of Mutual Funds: An Insider’s View. He is Director of the Retirement Income Industry Association and former President of the Investment Company Institute.

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