The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1933-1939.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 33.
The voters in the 1932 election knew one thing: they didn’t want any more of Hoover.
FDR had a well-to-do upbringing. He was born into a wealthy family and was educated at Harvard. But for most part of his life, he was confined in a wheel chair. Helping him walk was his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the most active First Lady up to that point. She did everything from influencing political policies, battling for the oppressed, and helping Franklin win votes.
FDR was a great orator and though he was wealthy, he took on the plight of the ‘forgotten’ working class man. His Democratic platform also called for the legalization of alcohol once more and big time social reforms.
Throughout his presidential campaign, FDR orated about the working class and criticized the Republicans. FDR’s killer smile and happy attitude made him easy to like. Hoover, on the other hand, tried to stand his ground and claimed that ‘prosperity is just around the corner’. People didn’t believe him. In the end, he lost embarrassingly bad. The electoral vote was 472-59.
For the first time, many black Americans, who felt some of the worst effects of the Depression, voted for a Democrat. In truth, any fairly competent Democrat probably could have won. Before Hoover left office, he tried to trick FDR with an anti-inflationary policy, which would have made sure the New Deal never went through. FDR wouldn’t budge.
The first 100 days of FDR’s presidency were swift and decisive. He first closed down the banks for a holiday and ensured they would open again, sounder and better. FDR aimed for three R’s: relief, recovery, and reform. New laws made it possible for the executive branch to have legislative branch powers. The US got off the gold standard and created the NRA (National Recovery Admin) and the PWA (Public Works Assc)
The New Deal, written mostly by youngish college professors, comprised of minimum-wage regulation, insurance, conservation, and abolishing child labor. But the most important thing, by far, was the regulation of the banking system.
The President comforted the public by delivering the first ‘fireside chat’. Afterwards, he passed the famous Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. With it, the FDIC was created and deposits up to $5,000 were insured. He wanted the public to exchange their gold for currency in order to cause inflation, which he believed would end the debt.
Now FDR had to create jobs.
Roosevelt created the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which employed 3 million young men to do work like fire fighting and reforestation. Other programs included FERA, which gave money to states for wages on work projects, AAA, which gave money to farmers’ mortgages, and HOLC (Home Owners’ Loan Corp), which helped both the mortgagee (the homeowner) and the mortgager (the bank).
But FDR also had lots of critics. Father Charles Coughlin, broadcasting weekly from Detroit, patronized FDR’s policies on his radio show. Senator Huey Long, long a foe of FDR, wanted to ‘share the wealth’ and make ‘every man a king’. He was assassinated in 1935. The start of Social Security began with Dr. Francis E. Townsend in California, but more on that later.
FDR, amid his critics’ critiques, began the Works Progress Administration in 1935. Over a period of eight years, 9 million people were given useful jobs strengthening the US’ infrastructure. FDR also employed out-of-work white collar workers like musicians, writers, and actors.
Women also found new purpose. Sect. of Labor Frances Perkins served as the first ever female cabinet member. Women innovated society as they advanced new ideas about gender roles and sexuality. Leading the charge for humanitarian relief was Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck.
The National Recovery Administration set out to do three things: assist industry, help labor, and support the unemployed. Industries were forced to band together and make new fair-competition codes that would reduce labor hours and raise wages. Laborers were encouraged to join unions; yellow-dog contracts had earlier been outlawed by Hoover. Industries would display the blue eagle to show that they followed the codes.
But soon the industries were taking advantage of the codes and the eagle was shot down. Furthermore, FDR was stripped of his legislative rights.
The PWA was far more successful and erected new structures like highways and dams. The repeal of prohibition with the 21st Amendment also aided the economy.
Farmers had been suffering for a long time. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) sought to do away with that once and for all. They did so by setting up prices for crops and paying growers to shrink their acreage to prevent surpluses. But this practice only increased unemployment and the operation was shut down in 1936.
FDR renovated his farming plan so that farmers planted soil-conserving crops and got paid big time if they set up restrictions on certain commodities.
But nothing FDR did could help the dust bowl in the Great Plains. A combination of Mother Nature and the over-cultivation of land caused the soil to dry up and erode. Many bills tried to help the dust bowl farmers with mortgages, though none passed.
The Native Americans also felt the wrath, but from the ashes rose a phoenix. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 helped set up tribal governments, give back Indian lands, and revived interest in their cultures.
FDR tried to make sure that the public was never swindled by big business again. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was formed and soon stock markets looked less like casinos and more like places of trade. Also in need of reform was the electricity industry. To take power away from the industry, the US formed a huge plant near the Tennessee River that put people to work and helped stop the power monopoly. The Tennessee Valley Act of 1933 helped make this happen.
The TVA built dams all around the Tennessee River and was able to provide low prices for power due to the absence of taxes. Many critics said that this was socialism, and it actually was. The project, however, put loads of people back to work, gave people cheap power, and set the stage for dams to be built all over the damn place. Huh, maybe socialism isn’t so bad, say our obviously liberal textbook.
Part of the New Deal entailed there to be new houses built. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) gave loans to house-holders to improve their houses and complete a new one. This was so awesome that it outlasted FDR himself. Congress also formed the US Housing Authority (USHA) and loaned money to states for low-cost construction. The USHA overcame crazy landlords and the slum population began to shrink.
Social Security came to be a reality in 1935 when the Social Security Act was passed. SS gave money to both the unemployed and the retired. GOP opposition was strong, but in truth, FDR was just following the example of advanced European countries. Finally, America was catching up.
But for those employed, it was a different story. After Bloody Thursday in San Fran, the US Gov’t realized it was time for unions to be legal. If you can believe it, they still weren’t recognized in the eyes of the law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 did just that. The still-active AF of L formed the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) and soon it would be pivotal in gaining workers’ rights in automobile and steel plants.
Congress introduced the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which set up minimum wages, maximum hour levels, and abolished child labor under 18. The CIO broke off from the AF of L later that year and was now called the Congress of Industrial Organization. Big whoop. By 1940, it encompassed 4 million members, including 200,000 blacks.
The Republicans nominated Alfred M. Landon going into the 1936 election. Supporting him were the Liberty League, a group of rich conservatives, and former President Hoover. Landon stood no chance (electoral votes: 523-8) and FDR was president once more. FDR won mostly because he kept his promises, which was easy because they were so vague.
FDR’s main claim now was that the mostly conservative Supreme Court was in the way of democracy and reform. He wanted to add six more justices to make reforms go through. This decision was met with harsh criticism and FDR became ostracized.
Much to FDR’s delight, Justice Owen Roberts began to vote more liberally and helped passed the Nat’l Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act through the Supreme Court. One of the older justices also retired and in went New Dealer Hugo Black. However, after the musical chairs routine in the Supreme Court in 1937, very few New Deal reforms were passed in Congress.
A harsh recession came in 1937 with the new Social Security taxes and increased spending. Following the advice of famed economist John M. Keynes, Congress passed a resolution to reorganize FDR’s New Deal administrations. FDR’s power was lessened in 1939 and corruption was all but demolished with the Hatch Act of 1939, which barred political money being used for political purposes.
FDR’s foes continued to sling mud by called him Jewish (as if it’s a bad thing) and renaming it ‘The Jew Deal’. The Nat’l debt was at $40 billion by 1939 as critics hailed the US as ‘handout’ nation. Republicans claimed that business would flourish if it became more private and reforms were relaxed. The unemployment rate, which was rising once more, would only be solved by WWII.
In the end, FDR stood fast by his New Deal and splashed a bit of socialism into the American capitalistic system. Right-wingers said he went too far and left-wingers said he didn’t go far enough. In retrospect, he was a conservative– he stood for the common American, he preserved democracy when the world was exploding in communism, and he took the middle road instead of veering left or right.
Remembering that FDR was bound to a wheel chair for all his presidency, if he ran for President today, he probably would have lost. In this day and age, a strong image is everything. Just think of McCain’s old age juxtaposed against Obama’s youth in 2008. Had McCain been younger, more fit, and had been able to shake off Bush off his back, he would have stood a better chance.