Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal

In 1928 Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the nomination as the Democratic candidate for the Governor of New York. Some newspapers questioned the decision. The New York Post asserted: "There is something both pathetic and pitiless in the drafting of Franklin D. Roosevelt". (1) The New York Herald Tribune took a similar view: "The nomination is unfair to Mr. Roosevelt. It is equally unfair to the people of the state." (2) Al Smith responded by arguing: "A governor doesn't have to be an acrobat. The work of the governorship is brainwork. Frank Roosevelt is mentally as good as he ever was in his life." (3)

After being nominated Roosevelt had four weeks of energetic campaigning, sometimes speaking as often as fourteen times a day. "Roosevelt surprised all his friends, and I think himself, by the vigor and drive he, just out of the sickroom, put into the whirlwind visits to the hundreds of districts... He took to the automobile as a method of getting around and spoke from the back of it at outdoor meetings... He proved to himself and the people that he was not too sick to assume responsibility, as his opponents claimed. He had that imponderable human quality which made people feel they were close to him." (4)

Although the Democrats did badly that year, with Herbert Hoover being elected as president. However, Roosevelt, bucked the trend and obtained 2,130,238 votes against the 2,104,630 achieved by his Republican opponent, Albert Ottinger - a majority of 25,608 out of more than 4 million cast. The New York Times reported: It is too early to select the new leader of the Democratic Party or to predict nominations for a date so remote as 1932. Yet by a most extraordinary combination of qualities, political fortunes and diversified associations, Governor-elect Roosevelt is within reach of the elements of party leadership." (5)

Al Smith, the previous Governor of New York, urged Roosevelt to appoint two of his key advisers, to his administration, Robert Moses and Belle Moskowitz. Roosevelt, who wanted to show he was in control of the situation rejected these suggestions. He told one aide, "I've got to be governor of the State of New York and I've got to be it myself." Two years later Smith commented: "Do you know, by God, he has never consulted me about a damn thing since he became governor." (6)

There was another important reason why Franklin Roosevelt wanted Guernsey T. Cross as Secretary to the Governor. Roosevelt told Smith that there were physical reasons why he could not appoint Moskowitz: "You know I need a great, big, strong man as secretary. I need someone whom I can lean on physically, if necessary, and I think it will be better, Al." (7)

Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as his industrial commissioner and a member of a governor's cabinet, the first woman to serve in that capacity. On her appointment he stated: "It is my firm belief that had women had an equal share in making laws in years past, the unspeakable conditions in crowded tenements, the neglect of the poor, the unwillingness to spend money for hospitals and sanitariums... would never have come about." (8) Other key figures in his administration included Edward J. Flynn (secretary of state), James Farley (chief strategist), Louis Howe (chief of staff), Henry Morgenthau (Agricultural Advisory Commission), Samuel Rosenman (speech writer) and Basil O'Connor (legal adviser). (9)

Wall Street Crash

The Wall Street Crash in October 1929, created an economic crisis in America. President Herbert Hoover completely underestimated the importance of the event and argued. "The fundamental business of the country - that is, the production and distribution of goods and services - is on a sound and prosperous basis." (10) The following month Hoover addressed the nation on the state of the economy. "I have... instituted systematic, voluntary measures of cooperation with the business institutions and with State and municipal authorities to make certain that fundamental businesses of the country shall continue as usual, that wages and therefore consuming power shall not be reduced, and that a special effort shall be made to expand construction work in order to assist in equalizing other deficits in employment... I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence. Wages should remain stable. A very large degree of industrial unemployment and suffering which would otherwise have occurred has been prevented. Agricultural prices have reflected the returning confidence. The measures taken must be vigorously pursued until normal conditions are restored." (11)

These measures did not work. Within a short time, 100,000 American companies were forced to close and consequently many workers became unemployed. As there was no national system of unemployment benefit, the purchasing power of the American people fell dramatically. This in turn led to even more unemployment. Yip Harburg pointed out that before the Wall Street Crash, the American citizen thought: "We were the prosperous nation, and nothing could stop us now.... There was a feeling of continuity. If you made it, it was there forever. Suddenly the big dream exploded. The impact was unbelievable." (12)

President Hoover made the situation worse by the passing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in March 1930. This raised taxes on more than 20,000 imported goods to record levels. In an attempt to persuade Hoover to veto the legislation, 1,028 American economists, including Irving Fisher, professor of political economy at Yale University, who was considered the most important economist of the period, published a open letter on the subject. (13)

"We are convinced that increased protective duties would be a mistake. They would operate, in general, to increase the prices which domestic consumers would have to pay. By raising prices they would encourage concerns with higher costs to undertake production, thus compelling the consumer to subsidize waste and inefficiency in industry. At the same time they would force him to pay higher rates of profit to established firms which enjoyed lower production costs. A higher level of protection, such as is contemplated by both the House and Senate bills, would therefore raise the cost of living and injure the great majority of our citizens."

The letter went on to point out that since the Wall Street Crash had resulted in much higher-rates of unemployment: "America is now facing the problem of unemployment. Her labor can find work only if her factories can sell their products. Higher tariffs would not promote such sales. We can not increase employment by restricting trade. American industry, in the present crisis, might well be spared the burden of adjusting itself to new schedules of protective duties. Finally, we would urge our Government to consider the bitterness which a policy of higher tariffs would inevitably inject into our international relations. The United States was ably represented at the World Economic Conference which was held under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1927. This conference adopted a resolution announcing that 'the time has come to put an end to the increase in tariffs and move in the opposite direction.' The higher duties proposed in our pending legislation violate the spirit of this agreement and plainly invite other nations to compete with us in raising further barriers to trade. A tariff war does not furnish good soil for the growth of world peace." (14)

Henry Ford spent an evening at the White House trying to convince Hoover to veto the bill, calling it "an economic stupidity." Thomas W. Lamont, the chief executive of J. P. Morgan Investment Bank said he "almost went down on his knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot tariff." He warned that the act would intensify "nationalism all over the world.” (15)

President Hoover considered the bill "vicious, extortionate, and obnoxious" but according to his biographer, Charles Rappleye, "the president could hardly turn its back on a measure endorsed by a clear majority of his own party." (16) Hoover signed the bill on 17th June, 1930. The Economist Magazine argued that the passing of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act was "the tragic-comic finale to one of the most amazing chapters in world tariff history… one that Protectionist enthusiasts the world over would do well to study.” (17)

Andrew Mellon was Hoover's secretary of the treasury. Mellon followed policies that involved cutting income tax rates and reducing public spending. He also brought an end to the excess profits tax. Mellon's policies created a great deal of controversy and he was accused of following policies that favoured the wealthy. The economic depression that began in 1929 was partly blamed on Mellon's policies. (18)

Franklin Roosevelt had opposed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. He also disagreed with Hoover when he vetoed a bill that would have created a federal unemployment agency and opposed a plan to create a public works programme. In March, 1930, Roosevelt established a commission to stablize employment in New York. "The situation is serious and the time has come for us to face this unpleasant fact dispassionately". (19)

Unemployment which stood at 4 million in March 1930, reached 8 million in March 1931. Hoovervilles, settlements on tin shacks, abandoned cars and discarded packing crates, emerged on the edges of all big cities. President Hoover responded by urging Americans to embrace the principles of local responsibility and mutual self-help, by setting up community soup kitchens. If we depart from these principles, he argued, we will "have struck at the roots of self-government". (20)

Franklin Roosevelt made it clear that he disapproved of this approach to unemployment. He pointed out he was willing to spend $20 million to provide useful work where possible and, where such work could not be found, to provide the needy with food and shelter. "In broad terms I assert that modern society, acting through its government, owes the definite obligation to prevent the starvation or dire want of any of its fellow men and women who try to maintain themselves but cannot... To these unfortunate citizens aid must be extended by government - not as a matter of charity but as a matter of social duty." (21)

In addition to the $20 million relief package, Roosevelt asked the New York legislature, for funds to establish a new state agency, the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), to distribute the funds. He also requested that the legislature to raise personal income taxes by 50% to pay for the relief effort. New York was the first state to establish a relief agency, and TERA immediately became a model for other states. This included New Jersey, Rhode Island and Illinois. (22)

Roosevelt selected Jesse Straus, president of R. H. Macy department stores, and one of the most respected businessmen in New York, to head TERA. He chose as his executive director a forty-two-year-old social worker, Harry L. Hopkins, who at that time was unknown to Roosevelt or any of his advisers. Hopkins was an inspired choice. A gifted administrator who proved he could deliver aid swiftly. In the next six years TERA assisted some 5 million people - 40 per cent of the population of New York State. (23)

Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out that TERA was the first of her husband's important projects. "Many experiments that were later to be incorporated into a national program were being tried out in the state. It was part of Franklin's political philosophy that the great benefit to be derived from having forty-eight states was the possibility of experimenting on a small scale to see how a program worked before trying it out nationally." (24)

Senior members of the Democratic Party began to talk of Roosevelt being the best man to take on Herbert Hoover in the 1932 Presidential Election. This included Burton Wheeler of Montana, Cordell Hull of Tennessee, James F. Byrnes of South Carolina and Pat Harrison of Mississippi. Roosevelt wrote to his friend, James Hoey, that "the great majority of States through their regular organizations are showing every friendliness towards me." (25)

The Republican Party feared Roosevelt and began circulating unfounded gossip concerning his condition. Time Magazine reported that Roosevelt might be mentally qualified for the presidency, he was "utterly unfit physically". (26) Roosevelt was very concerned about this campaign and wrote to a friend in the media: "I find that there is a deliberate attempt to create the impression that my health is such as would make it impossible for me to fulfill the duties of President... I shall appreciate whatever my friends may have to say in their personal correspondence to dispel this perfectly silly piece of propaganda." (27)

Earle Looker, a journalist who was a supporter of the Republican Party, challenged Roosevelt to undergo a medical examination to prove "you are sufficiently recovered to assure your supporters that you could stand the strain of the Presidency." Roosevelt accepted the challenge immediately. Dr. Lindsay R. Williams, director of the New York Academy of Medicine, was asked to select a panel of eminent physicians, including a brain specialist, to conduct the examination. In addition, Looker was invited to visit Roosevelt unannounced and observe the governor whenever he wished and as often as he wished. (28)

The panel examined Roosevelt on 29th April, 1931, and published its report the same day: "We have today carefully examined Governor Roosevelt. We believe that his health and powers of endurance are such as to allow him to meet any demand of private and public life. We find that his organs and functions are sound in all respects. There is no anemia. The chest is exceptionally well developed, and the spinal column is absolutely normal; all its segments are in perfect alignment and free from disease. He has neither pain nor ache at any time... Governor Roosevelt can walk all necessary distances and can maintain a standing position without fatigue." (29)

Earle Looker took advantage of Roosevelt's offer to visit him at work. Later he recalled: "I observed him working and resting. I noted the alertness of his movements, the sparkle of his eyes, the vigor of his gestures. I saw his strength under the strain of long working periods. Insofar as I observed him, I came to the conclusion that he seemed able to take more punishment than many men ten years younger. Merely his knees were not much good to him... From my own observation I am able to say unhesitatingly that every rumour of Franklin Roosevelt's physical incapacity can be unqualified defined as false." (30)

Presidential Campaign

In March 1932 Roosevelt asked Raymond Moley, a professor of public law at Columbia University, "to pull together some intellectuals who might help Roosevelt's bid for the presidency". Moley recruited two of his university colleagues, Rexford G. Tugwell and Adolf Berle. Others who joined the group, later known as the Brains Trust, included Roosevelt's law-partner, Basil O'Connor and his main speech writer, Samuel Rosenman. Others who attended these meetings included Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis (who introduced the group to the ideas of John Maynard Keynes) and Benjamin Cohen. (31)

It has been argued by Patrick Renshaw, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004): "Politically, Tugwell was on the left with Berle on the right. Moley chaired regular meetings of the brains trust, which Samuel Rosenman and Basil O'Connor also attended. FDR was not an intellectual, but enjoyed their company and was in his element at the free-wheeling discussions which hammered out the New Deal." (32)

In a speech jointly written by Roosevelt, Moley and Rosenman, he gave a speech on 7th April 1932 where he attacked the Hoover administration for attacking the symptoms of the Great Depression, not the cause. "It has sought temporary relief from the top down rather than permanent relief from the bottom up. These unhappy times call for the building of plans that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." (33)

Roosevelt constantly made the point that to solve the country's economic problems, the president had to resort to "imaginative and purposeful planning". In a speech at Oglethorpe University he suggested that if he became president he would not be afraid to experiment: "Must the country remain hungry and jobless while raw materials stand unused and factories idle? The country needs, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. Take a method and try it. If it fails admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." (34)

At the convention held to select the presidential candidate a debate took place over the Democratic Party's policy on Prohibition. This was a problem for Roosevelt as much of his support came from traditionally dry areas in the South and West whereas most party members and the general public favoured repeal. Roosevelt told his supporters to "vote as you wish" and that he would be happy to run on whatever platform the convention adopted. In the vote for repeal 934-213. Arthur Krock reported that "the Democratic party went as wet as the seven seas". (35)

The first ballot showed Roosevelt with 666 votes - more than three times as many as his nearest rival but 104 short of victory. Al Smith ran second with 201. At the second ballot Roosevelt's total crept up to 677. The conservative establishment in the South, disliked the radicalism of Roosevelt and made a move, led by Sennet Conner of Mississippi, to select Newton D. Baker as a compromise candidate. Huey Long, the progressive Governor of Louisiana, went to see Conner and said that unless he supported Roosevelt "I'll go into Mississippi and break you." (36)

Roosevelt won the nomination on the fourth ballot when he won 945 votes. William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) summed up the situation that the Democratic Party found itself in: "Liberal Democrats were somewhat uneasy about Roosevelt's reputation as a trimmer, and disturbed by the vagueness of his formulas for recovery, but no other serious candidate had such good claims on progressive support. as governor of New York, he had created the first comprehensive system of unemployment relief, sponsored an extensive program for industrial welfare, and won western progressives by expanding the work Al Smith had begun in conservation and public power." (37)

In his acceptance speech Roosevelt argued: "Yes, the people of this country want a genuine choice this year, not a choice between two names for the same reactionary doctrine. Ours must be a party of liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens.... Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people." He then added the words: "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a New Deal for the American people." (38)

Henry L. Mencken, was a journalist who had great doubts about the wisdom of selecting Roosevelt as the Democratic candidate for the 1932 Presidential Election. He wrote in The Baltimore Evening Sun: "Mr. Roosevelt enters the campaign with a burden on each shoulder. The first is the burden of his own limitations. He is one of the most charming of men, but like many very charming man he leaves on the beholder the impression that he is also somewhat shallow and futile. The burden on his other shoulder is even heavier. It is the burden of party disharmony." (39)

Elmer Davis, in Harper's Magazine, claimed that the Democratic Party had nominated "the man who would probably make the weakest President of the dozen aspirants". (40) Another journalist, Charles Willis Thompson, believed that the Democrats have nominated nobody quite like him since Franklin Pierce." It was pointed out that when Roosevelt was nominated bookies made him a 5-1 chance of beating Herbert Hoover. (41)

Roosevelt selected John Nance Garner as his running mate. Roosevelt's campaign did little to reassure critics who thought him a vacillating politician. For example, he attacked the Hoover administration because it was "committed to the idea that we ought to centre control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible" but advanced policies which would greatly extend the power of the national government. He said he would initiate a far-reaching plan to help the farmer; but he would do it in such a way that it would not "cost the Government any money". (42)

In one speech he made in Sioux City, Roosevelt argued that he would cut government spending by 25 per cent: "I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peace times in all our history. It is an Administration that has piled bureau on bureau, commission on commission, and has failed to anticipate the dire and the reduced earning power of the people." (43) One of Roosevelt's supporters, Marriner Eccles, admitted: "Given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other's lines." (44)

Huey P. Long, the progressive governor of Louisiana, telephoned Roosevelt to complain about his apparent move to the right. Roosevelt placated Long as best he could because he did not want to lose his support. Roosevelt told one of his advisers that he was unwilling to use the Long approach to politics: "Huey's a whiz on the radio. He screams at people and they love it. He makes them think they belong to some kind of church. He knows there is a promised land and he'll lead them to it." (45)

However, Roosevelt made good use of Long's talents. James Farley, who managed Roosevelt's campaign, later regretted not making more of Long: "We underrated Long's ability to grip the masses. He put on a great show and everywhere he went we got the most glowing reports of what he had accomplished for the Democratic cause... If we had sent Huey into the thickly populated cities of the Pennsylvania mining districts, the electoral vote of the Keystone State would have gone to the Roosevelt-Garner ticket by a comfortable margin." (46)

There was a general agreement that Hoover ran a very bad campaign. Several leading Republican politicians, on the left of the party, including Robert LaFollette Jr of Wisconsin, Hiram Johnson of California, George Norris of Nebraska, Bronson Cutting of New Mexico and Smith Wildman Brookhart of Iowa, supported Roosevelt. Jonathan Bourne of Oregon stated: "I think Hoover is the most pitiful failure we have ever had in the White House." (47)

William E. Leuchtenburg pointed out: "If Roosevelt's program lacked substance, his blithe spirit - his infectious smile, his warm, mellow voice, his obvious ease with crowds - contrasted sharply with Hoover's glumness. While Roosevelt reflected the joy of a campaigner winging to victory. Hoover projected defeat. From the onset of the depression, he had approached problems with a relentless pessimism... A man of impressive accomplishments, he had little understanding of the nuances of the art of governing." (48)

During the campaign President Herbert Hoover had to deal with the problems of the Bonus Army. In May 1924 Congress had voted $3,500,000,000 to the American veterans of the First World War. President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill saying: "patriotism... bought and paid for is not patriotism." However, Congress overrode his veto a few days later, enacting the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. Each veteran was to receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, up to a maximum of $500, and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, up to a maximum of $625. (49)

In order to prevent an immediate strain on its funds, the Government decided to pay the money over a 20 year period. During the Great Depression, many of these veterans found it difficult to find work. An increasing number came to the conclusion that the money would be more useful to them in this time of need than when the bonus was due. As Jim Sheridan pointed out: "The soldiers were walking the streets, the fellas who had fought for democracy in Germany. They thought they should get the bonus right then and there because they needed the money." (50)

In 1932 John Patman of Texas, introduced the Veteran's Bonus Bill which mandated the immediate cash payment of the endowment promised to the men who fought in the war. Although there was congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Hoover opposed such action claiming that the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout. (51)

In May 1932, 10,000 of these ex-soldiers marched on Washington in an attempt to persuade Congress to pass the Patman Bill. When they arrived in the capital the Bonus Army camped at Anacostia Flats, an area that had formerly been used as an army recruiting centre. They built temporary homes on the site and threatened to stay there until they received payment of money granted to them by Congress. It was clear that the veteran camp was a source of great embarrassment to Hoover and provided further proof of the government's callous unconcern for the plight of the people." (52)

It is estimated that by June 1932, there were 20,000 men living in the camp. President Herbert Hoover refused to meet with the leaders of the Bonus Army and ordered the gates of the White House chained shut. Police Chief Pelham Glassford did his utmost to provide tents and bedding for the veterans, furnished medicine, and assisted with food and sanitation. "The men were camped illegally, but Glassford (who had been the youngest brigadier general with the AEF in France) choose to treat them simply as old soldiers who had fallen on old times who had fallen on hard times. He resisted efforts to use force to dislodge them." (53)

On 28th July, General Douglas MacArthur and assisted by Major George S. Patton, used soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and the 16th Infantry, supported by tanks and machine guns, to clear the area. After a tear gas barrage the cavalry swept the camp, followed by infantrymen, who systematically set fire to the veterans' tents and temporary buildings to stop the men returning. MacArthur, controversially used tanks, four troops of cavalry with drawn sabers, and infantry with fixed bayonets, on the ex-serviceman. He justified his attack by claiming the "mob" was animated by the "essence of revolution". (54)

William E. Leuchtenburg has argued: "Far from being a menacing band of revolutionaries, the Bonus Army was a whipped, melancholy group of men trying to hold themselves together with their spirit was gone. The Communist faction had to be protected from other bonus marchers who threatened physical violence." (55) Irving Bernstein has admitted that there were some criminals in the group, but the record for serious crime in the government of President Harding was proportionately higher than in the Bonus Army. (56)

Some newspapers praised President Hoover for acting decisively, however, most were highly critical of what he had done. The The New York Times, devoted its first three pages to the coverage, including a full page of photographs showing the veterans being attacked. The Washington Daily News stated: "The mightiest government in the world chasing unarmed men, women and children with Army tanks. If the Army must be called out to make war on unarmed citizens, this is no longer America. (57)

Roosevelt was highly critical of the way President Hoover treated the Bonus Army. He was especially harsh on General MacArthur who he believed "has prevented Hoover's reelection". He told Rexford Tugwell that MacArthur was the most dangerous person in America. "You saw the picture of him in the New York Times after the troops chased all those vets out with tear gas and burned their shelters. Did you ever see anyone more self-satisfied? There's a potential Mussolini for you. Right here at home." (58)

Franklin D. Roosevelt made twenty-seven major addresses during the six month 1932 Presidential Election campaign, each devoted to a single subject. He spoke briefly on thirty-two additional occasions, usually at whistle-stops or impromptu gatherings to which he was invited. Herbert Hoover, by contrast, made only ten speeches, all of which were delivered during the closing weeks of the campaign. (59)

At a meeting in Detroit, President Hoover told the audience, "I wish to present to you the evidence that the measures and the policies of the Republican administration are winning this major battle for recovery. And we are taking care of distress in the meantime. It can be demonstrated that the tide has turned and the gigantic forces of depression are today in retreat." (60) The crowd responded with the cry: "Down with Hoover, slayer of veterans". According to one observer: "When he got up to speak, his face was ashen, his hands trembled. Toward the end, Hoover was a pathetic figure, a weary, beaten man, often jeered by crowds as a President had never been jeered before." (61)

The British film-star, Charlie Chaplin, took a keen interest in the election and later commented: "The lugubrious Hoover sat and sulked, because his disastrous economic sophistry of allocating money at the top in the belief that it would percolate down to the common people had failed. And amidst all this tragedy he ranted in the election campaign that if Franklin Roosevelt got into office the very foundations of the American system - not an infallible system at that moment - would be imperilled." (62)

On 31st October, 1932, in a speech in New York City Hoover attempted to show the American public had a clear choice in the election: "This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a contest between two parties. It is a contest between two philosophies of government. We are told by the opposition that we must have a change, that we must have a new deal.... This question is the basis upon which our opponents are appealing to the people in their fear and their distress. They are proposing changes and so-called new deals which would destroy the very foundations of the American system of life."

Hoover went on to argue: "The proposals of our opponents will endanger or destroy our system. I especially emphasize that promise to promote 'employment for all surplus labour at all times.' At first I could not believe that anyone would be so cruel as to hold out hope so absolutely impossible of realization to these 10,000,000 who are unemployed. And I protest against such frivolous promises being held out to a suffering people. If it were possible to give this employment to 10,000,000 people by the Government, it would cost upwards of $9,000,000,000 a year. It would pull down the employment of those who are still at work by the high taxes and the demoralization of credit upon which their employment is dependent. It would mean the growth of a fearful bureaucracy which, once established, could never be dislodged." (63)

Roosevelt heard Hoover's speech on the radio before appearing in Boston that night: "Once more he warned the people against changing - against a new deal - stating that it would mean changing the fundamental principles of America, what he called the sound principles that have been so long believed in in this country. My friends, my New Deal does not aim to change those principles. Secure in their undying belief in their great tradition and in the sanctity of a free ballot, the people of this country - the employed, the partially employed and the unemployed, those who are fortunate enough to retain some of the means of economic well-being, and those from whom these cruel conditions have taken everything - have stood with patience and fortitude in the face of adversity."

Roosevelt highlighted the plight of the unemployed: "There they stand. And they stand peacefully, even when they stand in the breadline. Their complaints are not mingled with threats. They are willing to listen to reason at all times. Throughout this great crisis the stricken army of the unemployed has been patient, law-abiding, orderly, because it is hopeful. But, the party that claims as its guiding tradition the patient and generous spirit of the immortal Abraham Lincoln, when confronted by an opposition which has given to this Nation an orderly and constructive campaign for the past four months, has descended to an outpouring of misstatements, threats and intimidation. The Administration attempts to undermine reason through fear by telling us that the world will come to an end on November 8th if it is not returned to power for four years more. Once more it is a leadership that is bankrupt, not only in ideals but in ideas." (64)

During the campaign Herbert Hoover had to have a heavy police escort to protect him from the angry crowds. He became very unpopular when he told one of the most influential journalists in Washington, Raymond Clapper: "Nobody is actually starving. The hobos, for example, are better fed than they have ever been." In another interview he attributed the high unemployment rate to the fact that "many people have left their jobs for the more profitable one of selling apples." (65)

Three days before the 1932 Presidential Election Hoover claimed that Roosevelt's policies could be compared to those of Joseph Stalin. He suggested that his opponent had "the same philosophy of government which has poisoned all of Europe... the fumes of the witch's cauldron which boiled in Russia." He accused the Democrats of being "the party of the mob". Hoover then added: "Thank God, we still have a government in Washington that knows how to deal with the mob." (66)

The turnout, almost 40 million, was the largest in American history. Roosevelt received 22,825,016 votes to Hoover's 15,758,397. With a 472-59 margin in the Electoral College, he captured every state south and west of Pennsylvania. Roosevelt carried more counties than a presidential candidate had ever won before, including 282 that had never gone Democratic. Of the forty states in Hoover's victory coalition four years before, the President held but six. Hoover received 6 million fewer votes than he had in 1928. The Democrats gained ninety seats in the House of Representatives to give them a large majority (310-117) and won control of the Senate (60-36). Only one previous Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, had done as badly as Hoover. (67)

Franklin D. Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover: "Just leave them Herb. I'll do it all after March 4th." Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (1932)
Franklin D. Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover: "Just leave them Herb. I'll do it
all after March 4th." Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (December, 1932)

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected on 8th November, 1932, but the inauguration was not until 4th March, 1933. While he waited to take power, the economic situation became worse. Three years of depression had cut national income in half. Five thousand bank failures had wiped out 9 million savings accounts. By the end of 1932, 15 million workers, one out of every three, had lost their jobs. When the Soviet Union's trade office in New York issued a call for 6,000 skilled workers to go to Russia, more than 100,000 applied. (68)

Edmund Wilson published an article in The New Republic just before Roosevelt took office: "There is not a garbage-dump in Chicago which is not diligently haunted by the hungry. Last summer, the hot weather when the smell was sickening and the flies were thick, there were a hundred people a day coming to one of the dumps... a widow who used to do housework and laundry, but now had no work at all, fed herself and her fourteen-year-old son on garbage. Before she picked up the meat, she would always take off her glasses so that she couldn't see the maggots." (69)

The Death of Anton Cermak

Before taking office Roosevelt attended a rally at Bayfront Park in Miami with Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago. James Bowler later recalled: "Mayor Cermak and I had gone to the park twenty minutes before the President elect was due to arrive, and we sat in the band shell together. When Mr. Roosevelt's car came along the President elect saw the mayor and called to him to come down. Mr. Cermak called back that he would wait until after Mr. Roosevelt had made his speech. Then Roosevelt spoke, and he waited until the mayor came down from the platform to go to the side of the automobile." (70)

Roosevelt explained how after the speech "I slid off the back of the car into my seat. Just then Mayor Cermak came forward. I shook hands and talked with him for nearly a minute. Then he moved off around the back of the car. Bob Clark (one of the Secret Servicemen) was standing right behind him to the right. As he moved off a man came forward with a telegram... and started telling me what it contained. While he was talking to me, I was leaning forward to the left side of the car." (71)

At that moment an Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara, pointed his gun at Roosevelt. At the critical moment an alert spectator, Lillian Cross, hit the assassin's arm with her handbag and spoiled his aim. Zangara fired five shots and they all missed Roosevelt, but did hit others. This included Cermak who received a serious wound in the abdomen. Rex Schaeffer, a journalist working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported: "I stood twenty-feet behind the car of the President-elect. Suddenly - I had given my attention to Mr. Roosevelt - a pistol blasted over my shoulder... Four more shots were fired and at the left of the car of Mr. Roosevelt I saw Mr. Cermak slump down." (72)

Zangara was attacked by the crowd. "He was seized by men and women, dragged between the rows of seats, and then a policeman rushed through the crowd and swung on him with his blackjack. The Sherriff of Dade County, Dan Hardie, was on the platform and as the shots rang out he plunged into the crowd after the shooter, and with the policeman, jerked him erect and threw him on the trunk rack of a defective automobile which was carrying one of the wounded out of the park." (73) Another witness remembers shouts of "Kill that man!" and "Don't let him get away". (74)

L. L. Lee was standing next to Cermak when he was shot. He claimed that his only words were, "The president! Get him away!" Lee and W. W. Wood, a Democratic county committee member, grabbed his arms and walked him towards the president's car." The chauffeur decided to get away from the scene as quickly as possible. Lee then heard Roosevelt shout "For God's sake a man has been shot" and the "car jerked to a sudden stop." (75)

Roosevelt told the New York Times: "I called to the chauffeur to stop. He did - about fifteen feet from where we started. The Secret Service man shouted to him to get out of the crowd and he started forward again. I stopped him a second time, this time at the corner of the bandstand, about thirty feet further on. I saw Mayor Cermak being carried. I motioned to have him put in the back of the car... Mayor Cermak was alive but I didn't think he was going to last. I put my left arm around him and my hand on his pulse, but I couldn't find any pulse... For three blocks I believed his heart had stopped. I held him all the way to the hospital and his pulse constantly improved." (76)

After the shooting Roosevelt remained at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami until Cermak was brought out of the emergency room. He spoke with him for several minutes and then visited the other shooting victims. According to the New York Tribune, an unnamed witness heard Cermak tell Roosevelt: "I'm glad it was me and not you, Mr. President." (77)

Joseph Zangara, after his arrest in Miami, Florida.
Giuseppe Zangara, after his arrest in Miami, Florida.

Anton Cermak died three weeks later on 8th March, 1933. Giuseppe Zangara, an unemployed thirty-two-year-old bricklayer, claimed he acted alone. "I have always hated the rich and powerful. I do not hate Mr. Roosevelt personally. I hate all presidents, no matter from what country they come." After being found guilty was sentenced to death in the electric chair at the Florida State Penitentiary. When he heard his sentence he yelled at the judge, "You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You're one of capitalists. You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!" Giuseppe Zangara was executed on 20th March, 1933. (78)

The Banking Crisis

President D. Roosevelt made full use of his advisors, known as the Brains Trust. The men shared the philosophy advocated by John Dewey that "organized social intelligence should shape society". They were all impressed by the work of women such as Jane Addams, Ellen Starr, Florence Kelley, Alzina Stevens, Julia Lathrop, Mary Kenney, Mary McDowell, Mary Ovington, Alice Hamilton, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Mary Heaton Vorse, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Crystal Eastman and Sophonisba Breckinridge, that had been so involved in the social reform movement. (79)

Adolf Berle, Rexford G. Tugwell, Raymond Moley and Louis Howe in the White House (March, 1933)
Adolf Berle, Rexford G. Tugwell, Raymond Moley and Louis Howe in the White House (March, 1933)

Rexford G. Tugwell and Adolf Berle argued the free market of Adam Smith had vanished forever. They concluded that the market no longer performed its classic function of maintaining an equilibrium between supply and that the two thousand men who controlled American economic life, manipulated prices and production. Tugwell wrote: "The cat is out of the bag. There is no invisible hand. There never was... We must now supply a real and visible guiding hand to do the task which that mythical, nonexistent, invisible agency was supposed to perform, but never did." (80)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on 4th March, 1933. His first act as president was to deal with the country's banking crisis. Since the beginning of the depression, a fifth of all banks had been forced to close. Already 389 banks had shut their doors since the beginning of the year. As a consequence, around 15% of people's life-savings had been lost. Banking was at the point of collapse. In 47 of the 48 states banks were either closed or working under tight restrictions. To buy time to seek a solution Roosevelt declared a four-day bank holiday. It has been claimed that the term "bank holiday" was used to seem festive and liberating. "The real point - the account holders could not use their money or get credit - was obscured." (81)

Roosevelt's advisers, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and Rexford G. Tugwell agreed with progressives who wanted to use this opportunity to establish a truly national banking system. Heads of great financial institutions opposed this idea. Louis Howe supported conservatives on the Brains Trust such as Raymond Moley and Adolf Berle, who feared such a measure would create very dangerous enemies. Roosevelt was worried that such action "might accentuate the national sense of panic and bewilderment". (82)

Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (1938)
Oakland Tribune (4th March, 1933)

Roosevelt summoned Congress into special session and presented it with an emergency banking bill that permitted the government to reopen the banks it ascertained to be sound, and other such banks as rapidly, as possible." The statue passed the House of Representatives by acclamation in a voice vote in forty minutes. In the Senate there was some debate and seven progressives, Robert LaFollette Jr, Huey P. Long, Gerald Nye, Edward Costigan, Henrik Shipstead, Porter Dale and Robert Davis Carey, voted against as they believed that it did not go far enough in asserting federal control. (83)

On 9th March, 1933, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act. Within three days, 5,000 banks had been given permission to be re-opened. President Roosevelt gave the first of his radio broadcasts (later known as his "fireside chats"). It is estimated that it had an audience of 60 million people: "Some of our bankers have shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people's funds. They had used money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans. This was, of course, not true of the vast majority of our banks, but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time into a sense of insecurity. It was the government's job to straighten out this situation and do it as quickly as possible. And the job is being performed. Confidence and courage are the essentials in our plan. We must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumours. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work. Together we cannot fail." (84)

Will Rogers welcomed the speech: "Mr. Roosevelt stepped to the microphone last night and knocked another home run. His message was not only a great comfort to the people, but it pointed a lesson to all radio announcers and public speakers what to do with a big vocabulary - leave it at home in the dictionary. Our President took such a dry subject as banking (and when I say dry, I mean dry, for if it had been liquid, he wouldn't have to speak on it at all) and made everybody understand it, even the bankers." (85)

Agricultural Adjustment Act

In September 1922, the Fordney-McCumber Act was signed by President Warren Harding. These raised tariffs to levels higher than any previously in American history in an attempt to bolster the post-war economy, protect new war industries, and aid farmers. Over the next eight years it raised the American ad valorem tariff rate to an average of about 38.5% for dutiable imports and an average of 14% overall. It has been claimed that the tariff was defensive, rather than offensive. (86)

Most of American trading partners had raised their own tariffs to counter-act this measure. The Democratic Party that had opposed tariffs argued that it was to blame for the agricultural depression that took place during the 1920s. Senator David Walsh pointed out that farmers were net exporters and so did not need protection. He explained that American farmers depended on foreign markets to sell their surplus. The price of farming machinery also increased. For example, the average cost of a harness rose from $46 in 1918 to $75 in 1926, the 14-inch plow rose from $14 to $28, mowing machines rose from $45 to $95, and farm wagons rose from $85 to $150. Statistics of the Bureau of Research of the American Farm Bureau that showed farmers had lost more than $300 million annually as a result of the tariff. (87)

Although agriculture sector had problems during the 1920s, American industry prospered. The real wages of industrial workers increased by about 10 per cent during this period. However, productivity rose by more than 40%. The farming community did not enjoy the benefits of this growing economy. As Patrick Renshaw has pointed out: "The real problem was that in both agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy America's capacity to produce was tending to outstrip its capacity to consume." (88)

Herbert Hoover and the Republicans believed the Forder-McCumber tariffs had helped the American economy to grow. William Borah, the charismatic senator from Idaho, widely regarded as a true champion of the American farmer, had a meeting with Hoover and offered to give him his full support if he promised to increase tariffs of agricultural products if elected. (89) Hoover agreed with the proposal and during the campaign promised the American electorate that he would increase the tariff. (90)

Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (1917)
Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (May, 1929)

After his election Hoover asked Congress for an increase of tariff rates for agricultural goods. The Smoot-Hawley Act was passed in the Senate on a vote of 44 to 42, with 39 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting in favor of the bill. Hoover signed the bill on 17th June, 1930. The Economist Magazine argued that the passing of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act was "the tragic-comic finale to one of the most amazing chapters in world tariff history… one that Protectionist enthusiasts the world over would do well to study.” (91)

By 1933 agriculture in America was in a terrible state. For example, per capita farm income was one quarter that of non-farm workers. Farm prices fell by 53 per cent from 1929 to 1932. Net farm income was down by 70 per cent. "A cow that sold for $83 in 1929 now brought $28. Cotton sold for six cents a pound. Corn in Nebraska brought thirty-one cents a bushel, Kansas wheat thirty-eight cents. By early 1933, 45 per cent of all farm mortgages were delinquent and facing foreclosure." (92)

Harry Terrell was brought up on a farm in South Carolina: "320 acres of farm land, fine land, that my uncle owned and cleared, he lost it because they foreclosed the mortgage. Some of the best in the state, and he couldn't borrow a dime. The farmers didn't have anything they could borrow on...Corn was going for eight cents a bushel. One county insisted on burning corn to heat the courthouse because it was cheaper than coal... The county was getting up in arms about taking a man's property away from him. It was his livelihood. When you took a man's horses and his plow away, you denied him food, you just convicted his family to starvation." (93)

Oscar Heline was someone who was forced into bankruptcy by the Great Depression: "First, they'd take your farm, then they took your livestock, then your farm machinery. Even your household goods. And they'd move you off... In South Dakota, the county elevator listed corn as minus three cents. Minus three cents a bushel. If you wanted to sell 'em a bushel of corn, you had to bring in three cents. They couldn't afford to handle it." (94)

Cortland Standard (March, 1933)
Cortland Standard (March, 1933)

Henry A. Wallace was appointed as Secretary of Agriculture. Rexford G. Tugwell, became assistant secretary. Tugwell wrote that "Since my graduate-school days, I have always been able to excite myself more about the wrongs of farmers than those of urban workers." (95) Together they drafted what became known as the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The plan was to raise farm income by reducing agricultural surpluses through a system of domestic allotments. Farmers would be paid directly by the government not to produce crops beyond an allotment set by the secretary of agriculture. The proposal aimed to deal with the crucial problem of depressed prices and mounting surpluses. (96)

Calvin Benham Baldwin was one of those employed by Wallace to help solve these problems. "The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) came into being shortly after I got to Washington. Its purpose was to increase farm prices, which were pitifully low. All the farmers were in trouble, even the big ones. Hog prices had just gone to hell. They were four, five cents a pound? The farmers were starving to death. It was decided to slaughter piggy sows (a pregnant pig). The AAA decided to pay the farmers to kill them and the little pigs. Lot of them went into fertilizer. You had a similar situation on cotton. Prices were down to four cents a pound and the cost of producing was probably ten. So a program was initiated to plow up cotton. A third of the crop, if I remember. Cotton prices went up to ten cents, maybe eleven." (97)

On 16th March, 1933, President Roosevelt sent the first genuine New Deal measure to Congress. It was a radical departure, suggesting government control of agricultural production, historically the most individualistic segment of the economy. Roosevelt admitted that the Agricultural Adjustment Act was a great departure from previous legislation: "I tell frankly that it is a new and untried path, but I tell you with equal frankness that an unprecedented condition calls for the trial of new means to rescue agriculture." (98)

Milton Halladay, Providence Journal (March, 1933)
Milton Halladay, Providence Journal (March, 1933)

The House of Representatives passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act without any amendments, but the Senate was not so convinced. The measure shocked conservatives and upset those who had to pay the proposed processing tax. Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts claimed that it the bill passed it would "put America on the road to Moscow". Frank Freidel, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (1990) pointed out that "others plastered a red label on Roosevelt's agricultural experts, or denounced them as professors who had no knowledge of farm realities." (99)

At the same time, some radicals, such as Burton Wheeler and Lynn Frazier, argued that the farmer deserved nothing less that government guarantee of his "cost of production". Tugwell observed: "For real radicals such as Wheeler, Frazier, etc., it is not enough; for conservatives it is too much; for Jefferson Democrats it is a new control which they distrust. For the economic philosophy which it represents there are no defenders at all. Nevertheless, in spite of everything, it will probably become law." It was passed on 10th May, 1933. (100)

Most farmers were very pleased by the passing of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Harry Terrell claims: "Henry Wallace and his granary was the man who saved the farmer... They took this corn and paid for it and stored it. They put a price on it that was above the miserable going price." (101) Oscar Heline agrees "It was Wallace who saved us, put us back on our feet. He understood our problems." Heline was in a group of farmers who went to see Henry A. Wallace: "He made it clear to us he didn't want to write the law. He wanted the farmers themselves to write it... He would always give his counsel, but he never directed us. The program came from the farmers themselves." (102)

The Farm Credit Administration was established on 27th March, 1933. It was a merger of government farm loan agencies under the control of Henry Morgenthau. On 16th June, 1933, Congress passed the Farm Credit Act, attempted to deal with the problem of farm mortgages. Over the next eighteen months it would refinance a fifth of all farm mortgages. (103)

Gene Elderman, Washington Post (June, 1933)

Gene Elderman, Washington Post (June, 1933)

Roosevelt later recalled that the establishment of the Farm Credit Administration was a great success as they needed to action to prevent people losing their farms. "We saved farms from foreclosure through the Home Owners' Loan Corporation and the Farm Credit Administration. I suppose some people today would like to repeal all that and go back to the conditions of 1932, when the people out West mobbed a Federal Judge because he was trying to carry out the existing law of the land in foreclosing a farm." (104)

Roosevelt attempted to placate conservatives by appointing George N. Peek as head of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). He also appointed Jerome Frank as general council to the AAA. Peek clashed with both Wallace and Frank. John C. Culver and John C. Hyde, the authors of American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (2001) have argued that Peek never liked Jerome Frank and wanted to appoint his own general council: "Crusty and dogmatic, Peek still seethed with resentment over Wallace's appointment as secretary, a position he coveted. Frank was liberal, brash, and Jewish. Peek loathed everything about him. In addition, Frank surrounded himself with idealistic left-wing lawyers... whom Peek also despised." This group of left-wing idealists included Frederic C. Howe, Adlai Stevenson, Alger Hiss, Lee Pressman, Hope Hale Davis and Gardner Jackson. Peek later wrote that the "place was crawling with... fanatic-like... socialists and internationalists." On another occasion he called the men "Lenin chicks". (105)

The conflict between Peek and the young liberals in the AAA continued. Peek's main objective was to raise agricultural prices through cooperation with processors and large agribusinesses. Other members of the Agricultural Department such as Jerome Frank were primarily concerned to promote social justice for small farmers and consumers. On 15th November, 1933, Peek demanded that Wallace should fire Frank for insubordination. Wallace, who agreed more with Frank than Peek, refused. Peek was also hostile to Rexford Tugwell, who believed that Peek was an anti-Semite." (106)

Peek resigned from the AAA on 11th December, 1933. Peek was replaced by Chester R. Davis. He also came into conflict with these young radicals. In February 1935, Davis insisted that Jerome Frank and Alger Hiss should be dismissed. Wallace was unable to protect them: "I had no doubt that Frank and Hiss were animated by the highest motives, but their lack of agricultural background exposed them to the danger of going to absurd lengths... I was convinced that from a legal point of view they had nothing to stand on and that they allowed their social preconceptions to lead them to something which was not only indefensible from a practical, agricultural point of view, but also bad law." (107)

Davis told Frank: "I've had a chance to watch you and I think you are an outright revolutionary, whether you realize it or not". Wallace wrote in his diary: "I indicated that I believed Frank and Hiss had been loyal to me at all times, but it was necessary to clear up an administrative situation and that I agreed with Davis". According to Sidney Baldwin, the author of Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration (1968), Wallace greeted Frank with tears in his eyes: "Jerome, you've been the best fighter I've had for my ideas, but I've had to fire you... The farm people are just too strong." (108)

Rexford Tugwell attempted to protect Frank and Hiss and received support from Louis Howe and Harry Hopkins: "I went and talked to Harry Hopkins who was outraged, to Louis Howe who was sympathetic, to Henry Wallace who was red-faced and ashamed, and to the President. My first impulse was to resign... I made up my mind that Jerome must have justice." (109) Roosevelt refused to let him go and agreed to appoint Frank as a special counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Association. (110)

Civilian Conservation Corps

After he was elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt initially opposed massive public works spending. However, by the spring of 1933, the needs of more than fifteen million unemployed had overwhelmed the resources of local governments. In some areas, as many as 90 per cent of the people were on relief and it was clear something needed to be done. His close advisors and colleagues, Harry Hopkins, Rexford Tugwell, Robert LaFollette Jr. Robert Wagner, Fiorello LaGuardia, George Norris and Edward Costigan eventually won him over. (111)

Frances Perkins explained in her book, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946): In one of my conversations with the President in March 1933, he brought up the idea that became the Civilian Conservation Corps. Roosevelt loved trees and hated to see them cut and not replaced. It was natural for him to wish to put large numbers of the unemployed to repairing such devastation. His enthusiasm for this project, which was really all his own, led him to some exaggeration of what could be accomplished. He saw it big. He thought any man or boy would rejoice to leave the city and work in the woods. It was characteristic of him that he conceived the project, boldly rushed it through, and happily left it to others to worry about the details." (112)

On 21st March, 1933, sent an unemployment relief message to Congress. It took only eight days to create the Civilian Conservation Corps. It authorized half a billion dollars in direct federal grants to the states for relief. The CCC was a program designed to tackle the problem of unemployed young men aged between 18 and 25 years old. By September, 1935, over five hundred thousand young men lived in CCC camps. (113)

Civilian Conservation Corps recruits about to leave for Missoula.
Civilian Conservation Corps recruits about to leave for Missoula.

The Civilian Conservation Corps camps were set up all over the United States. Blackie Gold told Studs Terkel: "I was at CCC's for six months, I came home for fifteen days, looked around for work, and I couldn't make $30 a month, so I enlisted back in the CCC's and went to Michigan. I spent another six months there planting trees and building forests. And came out. But still no money to be made. So back in the CCC's again. From there I went to Boise, Idaho, and was attached to the forest rangers. Spent four and a half hours fighting forest fires." (114)

The organisation was based on the armed forces with officers in charge of the men. Over 25,000 men were First World War veterans. The pay was $30 dollars a month with $22 dollars of it being sent home to dependents. The men planted three billion trees, built public parks, drained swamps to fight malaria, built a million miles of roads and forest trails, restocked rivers with nearly a billion fish, worked on flood control projects and a range of other work that helped to conserve the environment. Between 1933 and 1941 over 3,000,000 men served in the CCC. (115)

National Recovery Administration

Hugh S. Johnson joined with Bernard Baruch and Alexander Sachs, an economist with Lehman Corporation, to draw up a proposal to help stimulate the economy. The central feature was the the provision for the legalization of business agreements (codes) on competitive and labour practices. Johnson believed that the nation's traditional commitment to laissez-faire was outdated. He argued that scientific and technological improvements had led to over-production and chronically unstable markets. This, in turn, led to more extreme methods of competition, such as sweatshops, child labour, falling prices and low wages.

Johnson became convinced that his plan should play a central role in encouraging industrial recovery. However, its original draft was rejected by Raymond Moley. He argued that the proposed bill would give the president dictatorial powers that Roosevelt did not want. Moley suggested he worked with Donald R. Richberg, a lawyer with good relationship with the trade union movement. Together they produced a new draft bill. Richberg argued that business codes would increase prices. If purchasing power did not rise correspondingly, the nation would remain mired in the the Great Depression. He therefore suggested that the industrial recovery legislation would need to include public works spending. Johnson became convinced of this argument and added that the promise of public spending could be used to persuade industries to agree to these codes.

The draft legislation was finished on 14th May. It went before Congress and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was passed by the Senate on 13th June by a vote of 46 to 37. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was set up to enforce the NIRA. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Hugh S. Johnson to head it. Roosevelt found Johnson's energy and enthusiasm irresistible and was impressed with his knowledge of industry and business. William E. Leuchtenburg has commented: "A gruff, pugnacious martinet with the leathery face and order-barking rasp of a former cavalry officer, Johnson had no illusions about the dimensions of the job." (116)

Herbert Johnson, Saturday Evening Post (1935)

Herbert Johnson, Saturday Evening Post (1935)

Huey P. Long was totally opposed to the appointment. He argued that Johnson was nothing more than an employee of Bernard Baruch and would permit the most conservative elements in the Democratic Party to do as they pleased with American industry. Guy Tugwell also had his concerns about his relationship with Baruch: "It would have been better if he had been further from Baruch's special influence." He was concerned about other matters: "I think his tendency to be gruff in personal matters will be an handicap and his occasional drunken sprees will not help." However, overall he thought it was a good appointment: "Hugh is sincere, honest, believes in many social changes which seem to me right, and will do a good job." Surprisingly, Baruch himself had warned Frances Perkins against the appointment: "Hugh isn't fit to be head of the NRA. He's been my number-three man for years. I think he's a good number-three man, maybe a number-two man, but he's not a number-one man. He's dangerous and unstable. He gets nervous and sometimes goes away without notice. I'm fond of him, but do tell the President to be careful. Hugh needs a firm hand." (117)

Johnson expected to run the whole of the NRA. However, Roosevelt decided to split it into two and placed the Public Works Administration (PWA) with its 3.3 billion dollar public works programme, under the control of Harold Ickes. When he heard the news Johnson stormed out of the cabinet meeting. Roosevelt sent Frances Perkins after him and she eventually persuaded him not to resign.As David M. Kennedy has pointed out in Freedom from Fear (1999), the NRA and the PWA "were to be like two lungs, each necessary for breathing life into the moribund industrial sector". (118)

Jean Edward Smith, the author of FDR (2007): "No two appointees could have been more dissimilar, and no two less likely to cooperate. For Johnson, an old cavalryman, every undertaking was a hell-for-leather charge into the face of the enemy. Ickes, on the other hand, was pathologically prudent. As he saw it, the problem of the public works program was not to spend money quickly but to spend it wisely. Obsessively tightfisted, personally examining every project in minute detail, Ickes spent a minuscule $110 million of PWA money in 1933." (119)

The National Recovery Act allowed industry to write its own codes of fair competition but at the same time provided special safeguards for labor. Section 7a of NIRA stipulated that workers should have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing and that no one should be banned from joining an independent union. The NIRA also stated that employers must comply with maximum hours, minimum pay and other conditions approved by the government. Johnson asked Roosevelt if Donald R. Richberg could be general counsel of the NRA. Roosevelt agreed and on 20th June, 1933, Roosevelt appointed him to the post. Richberg's main task was to implement and defend Section 7(a) of the NIRA. (120)

Employers ratified these codes with the slogan "We Do Our Part", displayed under a Blue Eagle at huge publicity parades across the country, Franklin D. Roosevelt used this propaganda cleverly to sell the New Deal to the public. At a Blue Eagle parade in New York City a quarter of a million people marched down Fifth Avenue. Roosevelt argued that "there is a unity in this country which I have not seen and you have not seen since April, 1917." (121)

The NRA program was voluntary. However, those businessmen who accepted the codes developed by the various trade associations, could place the NRA blue eagle symbol in their windows and on the packaging of their goods. This virtually made the scheme compulsory as those companies that did not display the NRA symbol were seen as unpatriotic and selfish. (50)

Restaurant supporting the NRA scheme.
Restaurant supporting the NRA scheme.

Johnson's first success was with the textile industry. This included bringing an end to child labour. As William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has pointed out: "At the dramatic cotton-code hearing, the room burst into cheers when textile magnates announced their intention to abolish child labor in the mills. In addition, the cotton textile code stipulated maximum hours, minimum wages, and collective bargaining." As Johnson pointed out: "The Textile Code had done in a few minutes what neither law nor constitutional amendment had been able to do in forty years." (123)

On 30th June, 1933, Hugh S. Johnson commented: "You men of the textile industry have done a very remarkable thing. Never in economic history have labor, industry, government and consumers' representatives sat together in the presence of the public to work out by mutual agreement a 'law merchant' for an entire industry... The textile industry is to be congratulated on its courage and spirit in being first to assume this patriotic duty and on the generosity of its proposals." However, some trade unionists criticized the agreement to a $11 minimum wage as a "bare subsistence wage" that would provide workers with little more than "an animal existence." (124)

By the end of July 1933 Johnson had half the main ten industries, textiles, shipbuilding, woolens, electricals and the garment industry, signed up. This was followed by the oil industry but he was forced to make a raft of concessions on price policy to persuade the steel industry to join. On 27th August, the automobile manufactures, except for Henry Ford, agreed terms with Johnson. When the coal operators fell in line on 18th September, Johnson had won the last of the big ten industries to the NRA in a period of only three months. (125)

The coal code brought dramatic gains for miners. It included the right of miners to a checkweighman and payment on a net-ton basis and prohibitions against child labour, compulsory scrip wages and the compulsory company store. It also meant higher wages. As a result of the agreement, the United Mine Workers increased union membership from 100,000 to 300,000.

Ford announced he intended to meet the wage and hour provision of the code or even to improve on them. However, he refused to sign up to the code. Johnson reacted by urging the public not to purchase Ford vehicles. He also told the federal government not to purchase vehicles from Ford dealers. Johnson commented: "If we weaken on this, it will greatly harm the Blue Eagle principle and campaign." Johnson's actions resulted in a decline in sales of Ford cars and trucks in 1933. However, it only had a short-term impact and in 1934 the company had increased sales and profits.

Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (June, 1933)
Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (June, 1933)

John Kennedy Ohl has argued that during the summer of 1933 Johnson was called the "busiest man" in the United States: "Whether sitting at the desk in the Commerce Department or on the platform in the auditorium, Johnson, with his coat off, shirt open at the neck, sleeves rolled up, and perspiration streaming down his cheek... He chain-smoked Old Gold cigarettes, often lighting up one while two others were still burning in a nearby ashtray. Between visitors, sometimes over a hundred a day, and telephone calls, he scanned official documents and hurriedly scribbled his signature on letters brought in by his secretary." (126)

Some leading figures in the Roosevelt administration, including Harold L. Ickes, Rex Tugwell, Frances Perkins and Henry A. Wallace, became highly suspicious of Johnson's policies. They believed that Johnson was permitting the larger industries "to get a stranglehold on the economy" and suspected that "these industries would use their power to raise prices, restrict production, and allocate capital and materials among themselves". On 7th March, 1934, Roosevelt asked Clarence Darrow to head the investigation into the NRA. (127)

However, the NIRA was not very successful in helping employees. Section 7a which gave workers the right to form unions was not effectively enforced. Nor did the NIRA codes solve the fundamental problem of providing jobs for unemployed millions. Housewives complained about high prices and businessmen complained about government edicts. William Borah and Gerald Nye, two members of the progressive wing of the Republican Party, argued the NIRA was an oppressors of small business. (128)

Some critics described Johnson as behaving like a fascist. John T. Flynn argued: "He (Johnson) began with a blanket code which every business man was summoned to sign ­ to pay minimum wages and observe the maximum hours of work, to abolish child labor, abjure price increases and put people to work. Every instrument of human exhortation opened fire on business to comply ­ the press, pulpit, radio, movies. Bands played, men paraded, trucks toured the streets blaring the message through megaphones. Johnson hatched out an amazing bird called the Blue Eagle. Every business concern that signed up got a Blue Eagle, which was the badge of compliance.... The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism." (129)

In January 1934 Hugh S. Johnson made a speech where he claimed that the National Recovery Administration (NRA) had created 3 million new jobs: "NRA employed three million people, who were without jobs before, and added $3,000,000,000 to the annual wherewithal of workers to live. It must be remembered, too, that all this happened during a downward cycle of production when, without NRA, we would probably have had a fresh deluge of unemployment. That, as I have said before, was why we hurried." The American Federation of Labor said Johnson's figures were too high and it estimated that the NRA had created between 1,750,000 and 1,900,000 workers. (130)

Johnson was furious when Clarence Darrow reported back that he "found that giant corporations dominated the NIRA code authorities and this was having a detrimental impact on small business". Darrow also signed a supplementary report which argued that recovery could only be achieved through the fullest use of productive capacity, which lay "in the planned use of America's resources following socialization". Johnson wrote to President Roosevelt that it was the most "superficial, intemperate and inaccurate document" he had ever seen. He added that Darrow had given the United States a choice between "Fascism and Communism, neither of which can be espoused by anyone who believes in our democratic institutions of self-government." (131)

Hugh S. Johnson was also having financial problems. His $6,000-a-year salary did not meet his outgoings. Between October 1933 and September 1934 he borrowed $31,000 from Bernard Baruch, who told Frances Perkins, "I like him. I'm fond of him. I'll always see that he has work to do and a salary coming in one way or another." Perkins took this opportunity to try and get rid of Johnson and asked Baruch "to say to Hugh that you need him badly and want him back.... tell him you need him and have a good post for him".

Baruch said this was impossible: "Hugh's got so swell headed now that he sometimes won't even talk to me on the telephone. I've called him up and tried to save him from two or three disasters that I've heard about. People have come to me because they knew that I knew him well, but sometimes he won't even talk to me. When he does talk to me, he doesn't say anything, or he isn't coherent... He's just pushing off. I never could manage him again. Hugh has got too big for his boots. He's got too big for me. I could never manage him again. My organization could never absorb him. He's learned publicity too, which he never knew before. He's tasted the tempting, but poisonous cup of publicity. It makes a difference. He never again can be just a plain fellow working in Baruch's organization. He's now the great General Hugh Johnson of the blue eagle. I can never put him in a place where I can use him again, so he's just utterly useless." (132)

On 9th May 1934, the International Longshoremen's Association went on strike in order to obtain a thirty-hour week, union recognition and a wage increase. A federal mediating team, led by Edward McGrady, worked out a compromise. Joseph P. Ryan, president of the union, accepted it, but the rank and file, influenced by Harry Bridges, rejected it. In San Francisco the vehemently anti-union Industrial Association, an organization representing the city's leading industrial, banking, shipping, railroad and utility interests, decided to open the port by force. This resulted in considerable violence and on 13th July the San Francisco Central Labor Council voted for a general strike. (133)

Johnson visited the city where he spoke to John Francis Neylan, chief counsel for the Hearst Corporation, and the most significant figure in the Industrial Association. Neylan convinced Johnson that the general strike was under the control of the American Communist Party and was a revolutionary attack against law and order. Johnson later wrote: "I did not know what a general strike looked like and I hope that you may never know. I soon learned and it gave me cold shivers."

On 17th July 1934 Johnson gave a speech to a crowd of 5,000 assembled at the University of California, where he called for the end of the strike: "You are living here under the stress of a general strike... and it is a threat to the community. It is a menace to government. It is civil war... When the means of food supply - milk to children, necessities of life to the whole people - are threatened, that is bloody insurrection... I am for organized labor and collective bargaining with all my heart and soul and I will support it with all the power at my command, but this ugly thing is a blow to the flag of our common country and it has to stop.... Insurrection against the common interest of the community is not a proper weapon and will not for one moment be tolerated by the American people who are one - whether they live in California, Oregon or the sunny South." (134)

Johnson's speech inspired local right-wing groups to take action against the strikers. Union offices and meeting halls were raided, equipment and other property destroyed, and communists and socialists were beaten up. Johnson further inflamed the situation when he turned up for a meeting with John McLaughlin, the secretary of the San Francisco Teamsters Union, on 18th July, drunk. Instead of entering into negotiations, he made a passionate speech attacking trade unions. McLaughlin stormed out of the meeting and the strike continued. (135)

The New Republic urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to "crack down on Johnson" before he destroys the New Deal. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins was also furious with Johnson. In her opinion he had no right to become involved in the dispute and made it look like the government, in the form of the National Recovery Administration, was on the side of the employers. Demonstrations took place at NRA headquarters with protestors carrying placards claiming that it was biased against the trade union movement. (136)

On 21st August 1934, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Johnson and rebuked him for "unjustified interference" in union activity. Henry Morgenthau informed Roosevelt that in his opinion Johnson should be removed from the NRA. Rex Tugwell and Henry Wallace also told Roosevelt that Johnson should be sacked. Harry Hopkins, the head of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Civil Works Administration, advised Roosevelt that 145 out of 150 of the highest officials in the government believed that Johnson's usefulness was at an end and that he should be retired.

Within the NRA many officials resented the power of Frances Robinson. One official reported to Adolf Berle that as many as half of the men in the agency were in danger of resigning "because of the affair between Johnson and Robby". He had also lost the confidence of many of his colleagues. Donald Richberg wrote in a memo dated 18th August 1934: "The General himself is, in the opinion of many, in the worst physical and mental condition and needs an immediate relief from responsibility." (137)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked to see Johnson. He wrote in his autobiography that he knew he was going to be sacked when he saw his two main enemies in Roosevelt's office "when Mr. Richberg and Madam Secretary did not look up" I realised they had "been skinning a cow". Roosevelt asked him to go on a tour and make a report on European recovery. Sensing that this was "the sugary lipstick smeared over the kiss of death" he replied: "Mr. President, of course there is nothing for me to do but resign immediately." Roosevelt now backed down and said he did not want him to go.

Hugh S. Johnson believed that Donald Richberg was the main person behind the plot to get him removed. He wrote to Roosevelt on 24th August: "I was completely fooled by him (Richberg) until recently but may I suggest to you that if he would double-cross me, he would double-cross you.... I am leaving merely because I have a pride and a manhood to maintain which I can no longer sustain after the conference of this afternoon and I cannot regard the proposal you made to me as anything more than a banishment with futile flowers and nothing more insulting has ever been done to me than Miss Perkins' suggestion that, as a valedictory, I ought to get credit for the work I have done with NRA. Nobody can do that for me." (138)

Johnson continued to make controversial attacks on those on the left. He accused Norman Thomas, the leader of the Socialist Party of America, of inspiring the United Textile Workers to carry out an illegal strike. The charge against Thomas was without foundation. It was also not an illegal strike and he was later forced to apologize for these inaccurate statements.

Johnson also made a speech on the future of the NRA. He said it needed to be scaled back. Johnson added that Louis Brandeis, a member of the Supreme Court, agreed with him: "During the whole intense experience I have been in constant touch with that old counselor, Judge Louis Brandeis. As you know, he thinks that anything that is too big is bound to be wrong. He thinks NRA is too big, and I agree with him." Brandeis quickly told Roosevelt that this was not true. It also implied that Brandeis had prejudged NRA even before the Supreme Court had ruled on the NRA's constitutionality.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that Johnson must now resign. He was unable to do it himself and asked Bernard Baruch to do it for him. Baruch contacted Johnson and bluntly told him he must go. He later recalled that "Johnson kicked up a bit" but he made it clear that he had no choice. "When the Captain wants your resignation you better resign." On 24th September, 1934, Hugh S. Johnson submitted his resignation. (139)

Three days later, Roosevelt appointed Richberg as Executive Director of the National Industrial Recovery Board, that had replaced the National Recovery Administration. Richberg had difficulty running this new organization. Arthur M. Schlesinger, the author of The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal (2003) has argued that "Richberg engaged in double-dealing, lying to the President about the views of his subordinates and agreeing to his staff's requests that he raise issues with the President and later refusing to do so." (140)

On 27th May 1935 the Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Board as unconstitutional. The reasons given were that many codes were an illegal delegation of legislative authority and the federal government had invaded fields reserved to the individual states. Donald Richberg resigned on 16th June, 1935. (141)

The Federal Writers' Project

The Works Projects Administration (WPA) was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of the New Deal attempt to combat the Depression. This included the The Federal Writers Project to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. The project was directed by Henry Alsberg, a former journalist and theatre director. Originally, the purpose of the project was to produce a series of sectional guide books under the name American Guides, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States. Over the next couple of years the project was responsible for about a thousand publications, including fifty-one state and territorial guides, thirty city guides, and twenty regional guides. (142)

Writers involved in the project included Richard Wright, Claude McKay, John Steinbeck, Ralph Ellison, Studs Terkel, Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren, Conrad Aiken, William Attaway, Saul Bellow, Max Bodenheim, John Cheever, Vardis Fisher, Fountain Hughes, Weldon Kees, Kenneth Patchen, May Swenson, Jim Thompson, Frank Yerby, Margaret Walker, Dorothy West and Anzia Yezierska.

William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy (1995): "Project workers transcribed chain gang blues songs, recovered folklore that would otherwise have been lost... In Chicago WPA workers translated half a century of foreign language newspapers, a project requiring seventy-seven reels of microfilm... When the magazine Story conducted a contest for the best contribution by a Project employee, the prize was won by an unpublished twenty-nine-year-old who had been working on the essay on the Negro for the Illinois project. With the prize money for his tales, subsequently published as Uncle Tom's Children, Richard Wright gained the time to write his remarkable first novel, Native Son." (143)

The outpouring of literature under the sponsorship of the Federal Writers' Project was "one of the most remarkable phenomena of the era of crisis" wrote the critic Alfred Kazin in his book, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature (1942): "Whatever form this literature took... it testified to an extraordinary national self-scrutinizing... Never before did a nation seem so hungry for news of itself."(144)

One of the most impressive projects was the Slave Narrative Collection, a set of interviews which led to slave narratives based on the experiences of former slaves, with the work culminating in over 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. This was organised as a state-level branches of the Federal Writers' Projects in seventeen states, working largely separately from each other. (145)

On 26th May, 1938, the United States House of Representatives authorized the formation of the Special House Committee on Un-American Activities. The first chairman of the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was Martin Dies. The original intention of the HUCA was to investigate both left-wing and right wing political groups. However it was soon clear that his main target was New Deal initiatives such as the Federal Writers' Project. John Parnell Thomas, a member of the HUCA, commented that on the basis of "startling evidence" that the project was "a hotbed for Communists". (146)

Dies pointed out in his book, The Trojan Horse in America (1940): "Stalin could not have done better by his American friends and agents. Relief projects swarmed with Communists - Communists who were not only recipients of needed relief but who were entrusted by New Deal officials with high administrative positions in the projects. In one Federal Writers' Project in New York, one third of the writers were members of the Communist Party. This was proven by their own signatures. Many witnesses have testified that it was necessary for W.P.A. workers to join the Workers Alliance - high-pressure lobby run by the Communist Party - in order to get or retain their jobs.... Several hundred Communists held advisory or administrative positions in the W.P.A. projects." (147)

Federal Theatre Project

The Federal Theatre Project was established on 27th August, 1935. To direct the project, Harry Hopkins, named Hallie Flanagan, the head of Vassar's Experimental Theatre. Over a thousand theatre productions took place in twenty-two different states. Many of these were given free in schools and community centres. Other outstanding theatre people served as regional directors, including Charles Coburn and Hiram Motherwell. (148)

Although performers were only paid $22.73 a week, the FWP employed some of America's most talented artists. This included Arthur Miller, who was unemployed after graduating from the University of Michigan. He explained in his autobiography, Timebends - A Life (1987): "To join the WPA Theatre Project it was necessary to get on the welfare rolls first, in effect to be homeless and all but penniless... and conniving to get myself a twenty-three-dollar-a-week job." (149)

In 1934 Orson Welles directed Macbeth for the Negro People's Theatre, as part of the Federal Theatre Project. He also worked with John Houseman in the production of The Cradle Will Rock, a musical by Marc Blitzstein. Houseman argued that Blitzstein, described as "a play with music (while others, at various times, called it an opera, a labour opera, a social cartoon, a marching song and a propagandistic tour de force)". He wrote the play in only five weeks. (150)

The original production with Howard da Silva and Will Geer, was banned for political reasons. It eventually was performed at the Mercury Theatre (108 performances). Welles later recalled: "Marc Blitzstein was almost a saint. He was so totally and serenely convinced of the Eden which was waiting for us all the other side of the Revolution that there was no way of talking politics to him.... When he came into the room the lights got brighter. He was a an engine, a rocket, directed in one direction which was his opera - which he almost believed had only to be performed to start the Revolution." (151)

Elmer Rice was placed in charge of the Federal Theatre Project in New York City. In 1936 alone, the FTP employed 5,385 people in the city. Over a three year period over 12 million people attended performances in the city. One of Rice's innovations was the Living Newspaper (plays which were essentially theatrical documentaries). The first of these plays, Ethiopia, which dealt with Italy's invasion of the country, was banned by Harry Hopkins. (152)

"I've got the engine started, but..." Herbert Johnson, Saturday Evening Post (1935)
"I've got the engine started, but..."
Herbert Johnson, Saturday Evening Post (1935)

One play, It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, in 1936, was produced simultaneously in 22 cities. The Lost Colony (1937) by Paul Green, was an outdoor historical pageant that was performed in a Works Projects Administration built theatre on Roanoake Island. However, several plays were censored as it was believed they were too political. Harold Clurman defended the Federal Theatre Project because he believed it was "the most truly experimental effort ever undertaken in the American theatre." (153)

J. Parnell Thomas, a member of the HUCA, described the Federal Theatre Project as being "infested by radicals from top to bottom" and on 26th July, 1938, called for Hallie Flanagan to answer questions before the committee. Flanagan immediately went on the attack arguing that: "Some of the statements reported to have been made by him (Parnell Thomas) are obviously absurd... of course no one need first join or be a member of any organization in order to obtain employment in a theatre project." She also pointed out that only ten per cent of the plays presented by the Federal Theatre dealt with social and political problems. (154)

Sallie Saunders, appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and condemned the Federal Theatre because it had performed "pro-union plays, plays referring to Negro discrimination, and anti-Fascist plays." Saunders also complained that the project encouraged racial integration and that while working for the FTP she had been "telephoned by a Negro for a date". Hazel Huffman, a former employee of the Works Projects Administration (WPA), claimed that Hallie Flanagan was a person who "was known as far back as 1927 for her communistic sympathy, if not membership" and pointed out that 147 pages of her book, Shifting Scenes of the European Theatre, was devoted to "eulogizing the Russian theater." (155)

Hallie Flanagan eventually appeared before the HUAC. She later recalled: "The room itself, a high-walled chamber with great chandeliers, was lined with exhibits of material from the Federal Theatre and the Writers' Project; but all I could see for a moment were the faces of thousands of Federal Theatre people; clowns in the circus ... telephone girls at the switchboards... actors in grubby rehearsal rooms... acrobats limbering up their routines... costume women busy making cheap stuff look expensive... musicians composing scores to bring out the best in our often oddly assembled orchestras... playwrights working on scripts with the skills of our actors in mind... carpenters, prop men, ushers. These were the people on trial that morning. I was sworn in as a witness by Chairman Dies, a rangy Texan with a cowboy drawl and a big black cigar. I wanted to talk about Federal Theatre, but the Committee apparently did not... Here was a Committee which for months had been actually trying a case against Federal Theatre, trying it behind closed doors, and giving one side only to the press. Out of a project employing thousands of people from coast to coast, the Committee had chosen arbitrarily to hear ten witnesses, all from New York City, and had refused arbitrarily to hear literally hundreds of others, on and off the project, who had asked to testify." (156)

J. Parnell Thomas objected to the radical message in some of these plays. Thomas claimed that: "Practically every play presented under the auspices of the Project is sheer propaganda for Communism or the New Deal." Martin Dies, the chairman of the Un-American Activities Committee, called for the resignations of Harold Ickes, Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins, as the three had "associates who were Socialists, Communists, and crackpots." (157)

Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to sack these three members of his government but Congress bring the Federal Theatre Project to an end and allowed the other projects to continue only if they found local sponsors who would bear 25 per cent of the cost. During its four years existence the FTP launched or established the careers of such artists as Orson Welles, John Houseman, Will Geer, Arthur Miller, Paul Green, Marc Blitzstein, Canada Lee and Elmer Rice. (158)

Elmer Rice later wrote: "Nationally, the Theatre Project's record was extraordinary. At one time forty-two separate units were in operation in twenty states, with a total of nearly thirteen thousand employees... In its first three years the Theatre Project had produced more than nine hundred different plays, for a total of nearly 55,000 performances, many of them free, none charging more than a dollar. The attendances figures exceeded 26,000,000... In the project's fourth year, Congress killed it... Its demise was perhaps the most tragic occurrence in the cultural history of the United States. Had funds been provided for continuance, upon an artistic basis divorced from unemployment relief, of those units that had clearly demonstrated their worth, the foundation would have been laid for a nationwide theatrical structure that would have brought enlightenment and enjoyment to millions, and stimulation to artistic creation. The cost, compared to the billions expended annually upon weapons of destruction, would have been infinitesimal." (159)


At the beginning of 1933 unemployment stood at 13 million (12.8%). "This meant that about one-quarter of the workforce, and nearly 40 per cent of wage and salary earners were jobless. With no federal social security, local welfare, savings and charity long since exhausted, purchasing power was at an all-time low. Capacity to consume was gone and millions of Americans were on the brink of starvation." (160)

The measures taken by President Roosevelt did help 2 million people to find jobs by 1934 but unemployment remained high at 11.3%. The nation's GDP registered a 17% increase on 1933 but national income was still little better than half of what it had been in 1929. Roosevelt and the Democrats were worried about the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, 1934. (161)

However, they were wrong to be concerned as the government was rewarded for its actions to deal with the country's economic problems. In the House of Representatives the Democratic majority increased from 310 to 322 and in the Senate they now held 69 seats that was more than a two-thirds majority. Never in the history of the Republican Party had its percentage in either House been so low. Arthur Krock wrote in the The New York Times that the New Deal had won "the most overwhelming victory in the history of American politics". (162)

These results gave President Roosevelt to introduce more radical policies. On 17th January, 1935, Roosevelt asked Congress to pass social security legislation. The two men he chose to guide this measure through Congress had both experienced poverty. Robert Wagner (Senate) was an immigrant boy who had sold newspapers on the street and David John Lewis (House of Representatives) had gone to work at nine in a coal mine. (163)

The Social Security Act established Old Age and Survivors' Insurance that provided for compulsory savings for wage earners so that benefits may be paid to them on retirement at 65. To finance the scheme, both the employer and employee had to pay a 3% payroll tax. The provisions of the act also encouraged states to deal with social problems. It did this by offering substantial financial help the states provide unemployment benefits, old-age pensions, aid to the disabled, maternity care, public health work and vocational rehabilitation. (164)

In the debate in Congress, Arthur Harry Moore protested that if the legislation was passed: "It would take all the romance out of life. We might as well take a child from the nursery, give him a nurse, and protect him from every experience that life affords." Newspapers were also hostile to these measures. For example, The Jackson Daily News reported: "The average Mississippian can't imagine himself chipping in to pay pensions for able-bodied Negroes to sit around in idleness on front galleries, supporting all their kinfolks on pensions, while cotton and corn crops are crying for workers to get them out of the grass." (165)

After being passed by Congress in April and signed into law by President Roosevelt on 14th August, 1935. William E. Leuchtenburg has argued: "In many respects, the law was an astonishingly inept and conservative piece of legislation. In no other welfare system in the world did the state shirk all responsibility for old-age indigency and insist that funds be taken out of the current earnings of workers. By relying on regressive taxation and withdrawing vast sums to build up reserves, the act did untold economic mischief. The law denied coverage to numerous classes of workers, including those who needed security most: notably farm laborers and domestics. Sickness, in normal times the main cause of joblessness, was disregarded. The act not only failed to set up a national system of unemployment compensation but did not even provide adequate national standard." (166)

Despite its faults the Social Security Act of 1935 was a new landmark in American history. It reversed historic assumptions about the nature of social responsibility, and it established the proposition that the individual had the same social rights as those people living in Europe. Roosevelt defended his decision to make the employee contributions so high: "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program." (167)

By 1936 unemployment had fallen to 9.0%. The Republican Party selected Alfred M. Landon as its candidate. Herbert Hoover campaigned for Landon. He told the New York Times: "I rejected the schemes of economic planning to regiment and coerce the farmer. That was born of a Roman despot 1400 years ago and grew into the AAA. I refused national plans to put government into business in competition with its citizens. That was born of Karl Marx. I vetoed the idea of recovery through stupendous spending to prime the pump. That was born of a British Professor, John Maynard Keynes." (168)

Landon also received support from Al Smith, who was clearly jealous of the success of Roosevelt. This won few votes for Landon as Democrats accused Smith of betraying his party. Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald L. K. Smith and Francis Townsend, to form the National Union of Social Justice. They selected William Lepke as their presidential candidate. The 1936 Presidential Election was one of the greatest election victories in American history. Roosevelt won by 27,751,612 votes to 16,681,913 and carried the electoral college 523 to 8. He won every state but Maine and Vermont. Lepke won only 882,479 votes. (169)


(1) The New York Post (2nd October, 1928)

(2) The New York Herald Tribune (3rd October, 1928)

(3) Ernest K. Lindley, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Career in Progressive Democracy (1931) page 21

(4) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) page 43

(5) The New York Times (13th November, 1928)

(6) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 59

(7) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) page 53

(8) Franklin D. Roosevelt, quoted in The Women's City Club Quarterly (December, 1928)

(9) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) pages 231-233

(10) President Herbert Hoover, quoted in the New York Times (26th October, 1929)

(11) President Herbert Hoover, speech to the nation (3rd December 1929)

(12) Yip Harburg, interviewed by Studs Terkel in Hard Times (1970) page 35

(13) The Economist (18th December, 2008)

(14) A public letter signed by 1,028 American economists including Irving Fisher, Paul Douglas, Frank Graham, Henry Seager, Frank Taussig and Clair Wilcox (May, 1930)

(15) Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance (1990) page 323

(16) Charles Rappleye, Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency
(2017) page 148

(17) The Economist Magazine (20th June, 1930)

(18) Charles Rappleye, Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency (2017) page 77

(19) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech (29th March, 1930)

(20) Herbert Hoover, Memoirs (1952) page 55

(21) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech (28th August, 1931)

(22) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 251

(23) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph (1956) page 223

(24) Eleanor Roosevelt, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1937) page 154

(25) Franklin D. Roosevelt, letter to James Hoey (11th September, 1931)

(26) Time Magazine (27th April, 1931)

(27) Franklin D. Roosevelt, letter to Hamilton V. Miles (4th May, 1931)

(28) Earle Looker, This Man Roosevelt (1932) pages 134-135

(29) John Gunther, Roosevelt in Retrospect (1950) page 267

(30) Earle Looker, Liberty Magazine (25th July, 1931)

(31) Joseph P. Lash, Dealers and Dreamers (1988) pages 76-88

(32) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 71

(33) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech on NBC's Lucky Strike Hour radio programme (7th April, 1932)

(34) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech at Oglethorpe University (22nd May, 1932)

(35) Arthur Krock, The New York Times (10th June, 1932)

(36) Edward J. Flynn, You're the Boss (1947) page 101

(37) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 4

(38) Franklin D. Roosevelt, nomination address (2nd July, 1932)

(39) Henry L. Mencken, The Baltimore Evening Sun (5th July, 1932)

(40) Elmer Davis, Harper's Magazine (7th July, 1932)

(41) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 275

(42) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 10

(43) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech at Sioux City (29th September, 1932)

(44) Marriner Eccles, Beckoning Frontiers (1951) page 95

(45) Rexford Tugwell, The Brains Trust (1968) page 357

(46) James Farley, Behind the Ballots: The Personal History of a Politician (1938) page 285

(47) Jonathan Bourne, letter to Ida Arneson (9th July, 1932)

(48) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 13

(49) David Greenberg, Calvin Coolidge (2006) pages 78–9

(50) Jim Sheridan, interview, Studs Terkel, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 27

(51) Herbert Hoover, letter to Reed Smoot (18th February, 1931)

(52) Don Congdon, The Thirties: A Time to Remember (1962) page 117

(53) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 282

(54) The New York Times (29th July, 1932)

(55) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 15

(56) Irving Bernstein, Lean Years (1966) page 456

(57) Washington Daily News (29th July, 1932)

(58) Rexford Tugwell, The Brains Trust (1968) page 359

(59) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 281

(60) Herbert Hoover, speech in Detroit (25th October, 1932)

(61) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 16

(62) Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964) page 373

(63) Herbert Hoover, speech in New York City (31st October, 1932)

(64) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech at Boston (31st October, 1932)

(65) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 287

(66) Herbert Hoover, speech in Saint Paul (5th November, 1932)

(67) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 17

(68) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 289

(69) Edmund Wilson, The New Republic (1st February, 1933)

(70) James Bowler, Chicago Tribune (16th February, 1933)

(71) Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Times (17th February, 1933)

(72) Rex Schaeffer, Brooklyn Daily Eagle (16th February, 1933)

(73) L. L. Lee, Miami Daily Herald (16th February, 1933)

(74) The Bloomington Pantagraph (6th March, 1933)

(75) L. L. Lee, Miami Daily Herald (16th February, 1933)

(76) Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Times (17th February, 1933)

(77) New York Tribune (16th February, 1933)

(78) Stephen J. Spignesi, On Target (2006) page 208

(79) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 33

(80) Rexford Tugwell, The Battle for Democracy (1935) page 213

(81) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 85

(82) Joseph P. Lash, Dealers and Dreamers (1988) page 107

(83) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 312

(84) Franklin D. Roosevelt, radio broadcast (12th March, 1933)

(85) Will Rogers, speech (13th March, 1933)

(86) John Rothgeb, U.S. Trade Policy (2001) pages 32-33

(87) Edward E. Kaplan, American Trade Policy, 1923–1995 (1996) pages 8-10

(88) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 64

(89) Charles Rappleye, Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency
(2017) page 88

(90) The Economist Magazine (18th December, 2008)

(91) The Economist Magazine (20th June, 1930)

(92) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 241

(93) Harry Terrell, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 248

(94) Oscar Heline, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 252

(95) Rexford G. Tugwell, diary entry (31st December, 1932)

(96) Rexford Tugwell, The Battle for Democracy (1935) page 109

(97) Calvin Benham Baldwin, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 294

(98) Franklin D. Roosevelt, speech to Congress (16th March, 1933)

(99) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (1990) page 103

(100) Rexford Tugwell, diary entry (31st March, 1933)

(101) Harry Terrell, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 250

(102) Oscar Heline, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) page 254

(103) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pages 44-45

(104) John Gunther, Roosevelt in Retrospect (1950) page 316

(105) John C. Culver and John C. Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (2001) page 123

(106) Joseph P. Lash, Dealers and Dreamers (1988) page 219

(107) John C. Culver and John C. Hyde, American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace (2001) page 154

(108) Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration (1968) page 82

(109) Rexford Tugwell, diary entry (10th February, 1935)

(110) Rexford Tugwell, diary entry (27th February, 1935)

(111) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pages 44-45

(112) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) page 177

(113) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 174

(114) Blackie Gold, interviewed by Studs Terkel, in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) pages 76-77

(115) William E. Leuchtenburg, The FDR Years (1995) page 268

(116) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 64

(117) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) page 200

(118) David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear (1999) page 178

(119) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) page 344

(120) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) page 241

(121) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 66

(122) Hugh S. Johnson, The Blue Eagle from Egg to Earth (1935) page 208

(123) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 65

(124) Hugh S. Johnson, speech (30th June, 1933)

(125) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pages 116-118

(126) John Kennedy Ohl, Hugh S. Johnson and the New Deal (1985) page 146

(127) Hugh S. Johnson, The Blue Eagle from Egg to Earth (1935) page 272

(128) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 67

(129) John T. Flynn, The Roosevelt Myth (1944) page 43

(130) John Kennedy Ohl, Hugh S. Johnson and the New Deal (1985) page 170

(131) Hugh S. Johnson, The Blue Eagle from Egg to Earth (1935) page 272

(132) John Kennedy Ohl, Hugh S. Johnson and the New Deal (1985) page 225

(133) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 114

(134) Hugh S. Johnson, speech (17th July, 1934)

(135) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pages 389-394

(136) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) pages 315-321

(137) Donald Richberg, memorandum (18th August, 1934)

(138) Hugh S. Johnson, letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt (24th August, 1934)

(139) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (1990) page 136

(140) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) page 176

(141) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 114

(142) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 127

(143) William E. Leuchtenburg, The FDR Years (1995) pages 262-263

(144) Alfred Kazin, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature (1942) pages 378-379

(145) Norman R. Yetman, The Background of the Slave Narrative Collection (1967) pages 534-553

(146) Walter Goodman, The Committee (1964) page 25

(147) Martin Dies, The Trojan Horse in America (1940) page 298

(148) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 126

(149) Arthur Miller, Timebends - A Life (1987) page 246

(150) John Houseman, Unfinished Business (1996) page 127

(151) Orson Welles, interview with Barbara Leaming (30th June, 1984)

(152) Susan Quinn, Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times (2008)

(153) Yvonne Shafer, Eugene O'Neill and American Society (2011) page 154

(154) Walter Goodman, The Committee (1964) page 44

(155) Hazel Huffman, testimony before the Un-American Activities Committee (19th August, 1938)

(156) Hallie Flanagan, Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre (1965) page 344

(157) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) pages 318-319

(158) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) pages 126-127

(159) Elmer Rice, Minority Report: An Autobiography (1963) page 358

(160) Patrick Renshaw, Franklin D. Roosevelt (2004) page 65

(161) Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007) pages 349-350

(162) Arthur Krock, The New York Times (11th November, 1934)

(163) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) pages 131-132

(164) Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946) pages 278-300

(165) The Jackson Daily News (20th June, 1935)

(166) William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963) page 132

(167) Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal (1958) pages 308-309

(168) Herbert Hoover, interviewed in the New York Times (31st October, 1936)

(169) Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (1990) page 207