PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT AND THE NEW DEAL
1932 “Once I spent two years in bed trying to move my big toe. After that everything else seems easy.” Franklin D. Roosevelt, on his recovery after being stricken by polio in 1921.
1933 “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink form honestly facing conditions in the country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that we have nothing to fear but fear itself — nameless, unreasoning unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.... “Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty, and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated.... “The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.... “The nation asks for action, and action now....” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, first inauguration address (March 4). Many people feared total economic collapse and/or violent revolution in the U.S., which Roosevelt rejected.
1933 “Hundred days” Period from Roosevelt’s inauguration as president on March 4 until June, when Congress passed many laws to relieve the crisis of the Great Depression. The first bill presented to Congress, an emergency banking bill, was debated for only 38 minutes in the House and three hours in the Senate before it was passed.
1933 “Fireside chat” President Roosevelt’s informal radio talks to the country. Listeners said that it seemed that Roosevelt was speaking to each of them individually.
1933 “Brain trust” Expression referring to President Roosevelt’s advisers.
1933 “Priming the pump” Expression referring to government emergency spending to help the economy, much like a small amount of water injected into a pump helps it to get water flowing.
1933 “I really enjoyed it. I had three wonderful square meals a day.... The sure made a man of ya, because you learned that everybody here was equal. There was nobody better than another in the CCC’s.” One of more than 250,000 young men who worked in forests for a dollar a day in the Civilian Conservation Corps, established in 1933.
1933 “If all employers in each competitive group agree to pay their workers the same wages... and require the same hours... then higher wages and shorter hours will hurt no employer. Moreover, such action is better for the employer than unemployment and low wages, because it makes more buyers for his product.” President Roosevelt, explaining the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which would require cooperation between businesses in the same industry. This would involve suspension of antitrust laws and other laws against uncompetitive business practices.
1933 “It was this administration which saved the system of private profit and free enterprise after it had been dragged to the brink of ruin.” President Roosevelt, on how his emergency actions in 1933 prevented a revolution and saved capitalism.
1933 “If I come out for the antilynching bill now, [the Southern Democrats] will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing.” President Roosevelt, on the need to sacrifice principles to higher needs.
1933 “The great public is interested more in government than in politics.... [Party labels do not matter as long as politicians] did the big job that their times demanded to be done.” President Roosevelt
1934 “I could cite statistics to you as unanswerable measures of our national progress.... “But the simplest way for each of you to judge recovery lies in the plain facts of your own individual situation. Are you better off than you were last year? Are your debts less burdensome? Is your bank account more secure. Are your working conditions better? Are your working conditions better? Is your faith in your own individual future more firmly grounded? Also, let me put to you another simple question: Have you as an individual paid too high a price for these gains?... Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice? Turn to the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, which I have solemnly sworn to maintain and under which your freedom rests secure. Read each provision of that Bill of Rights and ask yourself if you personally have suffered the impairment of a single jot of these great assurances. I have no question in my mind as to what your answer will be.... “In the working out of a great national program which seeks the primary good of the greater number, it is true that the toes of some people are being stepped on and are going to be stepped on. But these toes belong to the comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some shortcut which is harmful to the greater good.” President Roosevelt in a “Fireside Chat” in June 1934. In these Fireside Chats, the president would speak over the radio to the country, and, to many listeners, it was as if the president was speaking individually to them.
1934 One of my principal tasks is to prevent bankers and businessmen from committing suicide!” President Roosevelt (November 1934)
1935 “The [NRA] campaign is a frank dependence on the power and the willingness of the American people to act together as one person in an hour of great denger.... The Blue Eagle is a symbol of industrial solidarity and self-government.... “The Apostles of Plenty must temper their doctrine. The answer is not to produce as much as you can at the lowest cost you can get, especially if that low cost comes out of the wages or too abruptly out of unemployment.... “Always the answer is ‘balance’ — balance of supply to demand, balance of prices at fair exchange parity throughout the whole economic structure and balance the of benefits among great economic areas. You cannot even move toward this balance without some direction. NRA (National Recovery Administration) offers one way to get that supervision in industry just as AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) offers it in agriculture and the various securities and fiscal acts offer it in investment and banking. These statutory makeshifts are not the final answer. Everybody knows that. They are hasty and imperfect. But the very heart of the New Deal is the principle of concerted action in industry and agriculture under government supervision looking to a balanced economy as opposed to the murderous doctrine of savage and wolfish competition and rugged individualism, looking to dog-eat-dog and devil take the hindmost.” Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, director of the NRA
1936 Wait until next year, Henry. I am going to be really radical.... I am going to recommend a lot of radical legislation.” President Roosevelt to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, on his intention of shifting from the emphasis in his first administration on emergency legislation to an emphasis on establishing a welfare state in his second administration.
1936 “Nine old men” Pres. Roosevelt’s putdown of the Supreme Court, after it ruled that the Agricultural Adjustment Act was unconstitutional.
1937 “Packing the Court” Pres. Roosevelt’s plan to put five additional justices on the Supreme Court in order to water down its opposition to New Deal legislation.
1937 “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill nourished.” President Roosevelt, second inaugural address.
New Deal Reform Programs: American Indians
1933 “Stop wronging the Indians and... rewrite the cruel and stupid laws that rob them and crush their family lives.... [Indian tribes should be] surrounded by the protective guardianship of the federal government and clothed with the authority of the federal government.” Goals of John Collier, when becoming head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior.
1933 “This thing, the thing you said that will make us strong, what do you mean by it? We have been told that not once but many times this same thing, and all it is is a bunch of lies.... You’re wasting your time coming here and talking to us.” Howard Gorman, Navajo tribal leader, when John Collier went to Arizona and spoke to the Tribal Council.
New Deal Reform Programs: Federal Writers Project
c. 1935 “Each morning I walked to the Project as light hearted as if I were going to a party.” Novelist Anzia Yezierska
c. 1935 The key to the ‘30s was the joy to awake and see life entire and tell the stories of real people.” Poet Muriel Rukeyser
New Deal Reform Programs: Social Security
c. 1934 “Programs long thought of as merely labor welfare, such as shorter hours, higher wages, and a voice in the terms of conditions of work, are really essential economic factors for recovery.” Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, the first women to become a member of the president’s cabinet.
1935 “In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles — first, noncontributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance.... Second, compulsory contributory annuities, which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age..... No one can guarantee this country against the dangers of future depressions, but we can reduce those dangers. We can eliminate many of the factors that cause economic depressions and we can provide the means of mitigating their results. This plan for economic security is at once a measure of prevention and a measure of alleviation. “We pay now for the dreadful consequences of economic insecurity — and dearly. This plan presents a more equitable and infinitely less expensive means of meeting these costs. We cannot afford to neglect the plain duty before us.” President Roosevelt, message to Congress asking it to pass Social Security legislation. 1935 “We have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.” President Roosevelt, on unemployment and social security legislation.
The Dust Bowl
1935 “All we could do about it was just sit in our dusty chairs, gaze at each other through the fog that filled the room and watch that fog settle slowly and silently, covering everything — including ourselves — in a thick, browning gray blanket.... The door and windows were all shut tightly, yet those tiny particles seemed to seep through the very walls. It got into cupboards and clothes closets; our faces were as dirty as if we had rolled in the dirt; our hair was gray ands stiff and we ground dirt between our teeth.” Woman’s account of dust storms, in the Kansas City Times.
1936 “The continental soil, the center of vitality, is visibly and rapidly declining. The forest cover has been stripped and burned and steadily shrinks. The natural grass cover has been torn to ribbons by steel plows and hooves of cattle and sheep. The skin of America has been laid open. Streams have lost their measured balance, and, heavy with silt, run wild in flood to the sea at certain seasons, to fall to miserable trickles in the drier months.... “Kansas farms are blowing through Nebraska at an accelerating rate. In the spring of 1934, the farms of the Dust Bowl — which includes western Oklahoma, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, the panhandle of Texas, and parts of Wyoming — blew clear out to the Atlantic Ocean, 2,000 miles away. On a single day 300 million tons of rich top soil was lifted from the Great Plains, never to return, and planted in places where iot would spread the maximum of damage and discomfort. Authentic desert sand dunes were laid down. People began to die of dust pneumonia. More than 9 million acres of good farm land has been virtually destroyed by wind erosion, and serious damage is reported on nearly 80 million acres.... The rate of loss tends to follow the laws of compound interest. The stricken areas grow continually larger.” Stuart Chase, in Rich Land, Poor Land.
Opposition to the New Deal
1933 The New Deal was creating “a great political machine centered in Washington.” William Allen White, editor of the Gazette of Emporia, Kansas.
1935 “[U]nless we do share our wealth, unless we limit the size of the big man so as to give something to the little man, we can never have a happy or a free people....” Sen. Huey Long (Democrat-Louisiana), originator of the Share the Wealth Society. He who felt that Roosevelt’s New Deal was too conservative and moving too slowly.
1935 “Economic royalists denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.” President Roosevelt, on the opponents of the New Deal.
1936 “Either we shall have a society based upon ordered liberty and the initiative of the individual, or we shall have a planned society that means dictation, no matter what you call it or who does it. There is no halfway ground.” Former President Herbert Hoover, speech, June 10, 1936.
1936 “Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism” Communist Party USA slogan
c. 1936 The country needs “not just a new deal, but also a new deck.” Floyd B. Olson, radical governor of Minnesota.
1937 “If the American people accept this last audacity of the President without letting out a yell to high heaven, they have ceased to be jealous of their liberties and are ripe for ruin. This is the beginning of a pure personal government.” Columnist Dorothy Parker, calling Roosevelt’s plan to “pack” the Supreme Court with his supporters as a step toward dictatorship.
Foreign Affairs in the 1930s
1933 “No state has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another state.” Resolution adopted by the International Conference of American States. The resolution was a key part of Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” towards Latin America.
1933 “A year has passed since Japan’s absorption of Manchuria presented the most serious threat to world peace since 1918, and the first concrete test of all the hopes, plans, and devices contrived for the prevention of war. It is time to take a reckoning. “Two items stand out in such a reckoning. “First, America, while clinging to the fiction of isolation from Europe, has become definitely alarmingly, and perhaps inextricably involved in Asia. “Second, the promise of control war by international machinery has proved illusive... “When the balance of all the forces working on history in the Far East is taken, the resultant will be found to be the definitive entry of the United States into the East. The United States has not only intervened but made unequivocal commitments and thereby, with or without deliberate intent, moved to a new position in world affairs. The pronouncements of the American government with reference to Manchuria, so glibly hailed by liberals, will constitute, unless revoked, a pledge and policy no less binding than the Monroe Doctrine but infinitely harder to effectuate. They will embroil us in the most inflammable area in the world: make us a protagonist of the status quo in a region where the status quo is inherently unstable.... And of this fact the American people remain singularly unaware and wholly uncritical.” Nathaniel Peffer, in Harper’s Magazine.
1935 “Some of us in the Senate, particularly the members of the Munitions Investigation Committee, have delved rather deeply into the matter of how the United States has been drawn into past wars and what forces are at work to frighten us again into the traps set by Mars.... “Just who profited from the past war? Labor got some of the crumbs in the form of high wages and steady jobs. But where is labor today, with its 14 million unemployed? Agriculture received high prices for its products during the period of the war and has been paying the price of that brief inflation in the worst and longest agricultural depression in all history. Industry made billions in furnishing the necessities of war to the belligerents and suffered terrific reaction like the dope addict’s morning after. War and depression — ugly, misshapen, inseparable twins — must be considered together. Each is a catapult for the other. The present worldwide depression is a direct result of the World War. Every war in modern history has been followed by a major depression. “Therefore, I say, let the man seeking profits from war or the war-torn countries do so at his own risk....” Sen. Bennett Champ Clark, (Democrat-Missouri), in Harper’s Monthly, condemning the “merchants of death.”
1937 “The political situation in the world, which of late has been growing progressively worse, is such as to cause grave concern and anxiety to all the peoples and nations who wish to live in peace and amity with their neighbors.... “It began through unjustified interference in the internal affairs of other nations or the invasion of alien territory in violation of treaties and has now reached a stage where the very foundations of civilization are seriously threatened. The landmarks and traditions which have marked the progress of civilization toward a condition of law, order, and justice are being wiped away.... “It seems unfortunately true that the epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading. When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the community approves and joins a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease. “It is my determination to pursue a policy of peace and to adopt every practicable measure to avoid involvement in war. It ought to be inconceivable that in this modern era, and in the face of experience, and nation could be so foolish and ruthless as to run the risk of plunging the whole world into war by invading and violating, in contravention of solemn treaties, the territory of other nations that have done them no real harm and which are too weak to protect themselves adequately. Yet the peace of the world and the welfare and security of every nation is today being threatened by that very thing.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Quarantine Speech” in Chicago.
1937 “Panay Incident” Sinking of an American patrol boat in the Yangtze River in China by Japanese planes in December 1937.