Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States. Roosevelt served longer than any other president. His unprecedented election to four terms in office will probably never be repeated; the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, passed after his death, denies the right of any person to be elected president more than twice. Roosevelt held office during two of the greatest crises ever faced by the United States: the Great Depression of the 1930s, followed by World War II.
His domestic program, known as the New Deal, introduced far-reaching reforms within the free enterprise system and prepared the way for what is often called the welfare state. His leadership of the Democratic Party transformed it into a political vehicle for American liberalism. Both in peacetime and in war his impact on the office of president was enormous. Although there had been strong presidents before him, they were the exception. In Roosevelts 12 years in office strong executive leadership became a basic part of United States government.
He made the office of president the center of diplomatic initiative and the focus of domestic reform. Roosevelt was born at his familys estate at Hyde Park, in Dutchess County, New York. He was the only child of James Roosevelt and Sara Delano Roosevelt. James Roosevelt was a moderately successful businessman, with a variety of investments and a special interest in coal. He was also a conservative Democrat who was interested in politics. His home overlooking the Hudson River was comfortable without being ostentatious, and the family occupied a prominent position among the social elite of the area.
Sara Delano, 26 years younger than her previously widowed husband, brought to the marriage a fortune considerably larger than that of James Roosevelt. The Delano family had prospered trading with China, and Sara herself had spent some time with her parents in Hong Kong. Thus, Franklin was born into a pleasant and sociable home, with loving parents and congenial, rather aristocratic companions. Roosevelt often taken on European trips, and he also spent much time at a vacation home that James Roosevelt purchased on Campobello Island, on the Bay of Fundy, in New Brunswick, Canada.
It was a pleasant life for the young Roosevelt, who was fond of the outdoors. He soon developed a passionate interest in natural history and became an ardent bird watcher. He grew to love outdoor sports and became an expert swimmer and a fine sailor. His mother supervised his education until he was 14. French-speaking and German-speaking tutors did most of the actual instruction and helped him develop early a talent for those languages. Young Roosevelt was a voracious reader. He was particularly fond of adventure tales, especially those that touched on the sea.
He also developed an absorbing interest in stamp collecting, a hobby that taught him both history and geography and that was to afford him pleasure and relaxation during all of his adult life. Rossevelts selected Groton School in Massachusetts, which had a reputation as one of the finest of the exclusive private schools that prepared boys for the Ivy League colleges. Young Roosevelt was a good student, popular with his fellow students as well as with his teachers. From Groton Roosevelt went on to Harvard College. He entered in 1899, the year before his father died, and remained until 1904.
He took his bachelors degree in 1903 but returned to Harvard in the fall to serve as editor of the student newspaper, The Crimson. He was an above-average student at Harvard, but he devoted a great deal of time to extracurricular activities, and his grades suffered as a consequence. He was particularly interested in history and political economy and took courses in those subjects with outstanding professors. Although he was a competent journalist, his editorials in The Crimson were chiefly concerned with school spirit in athletics and show no sign of growing social consciousness or political awareness.
However, he joined a Republican club in 1900, out of boyish enthusiasm for the vice-presidential candidacy of his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904 he cast his first vote in a presidential election for his cousin, who had become president after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Afterward, however, Franklin joined his fathers political party, and he probably never again voted for a Republican. Roosevelt then moved to New York City, where he entered the Columbia University Law School in 1904.
Although he attended classes until 1907, he failed to stay on for his law degree after passing the state examinations allowing him to practice law. For the next three years he was a clerk in a prominent law firm in New York City, but the evidence is clear that he had little interest in law and little enthusiasm to be a lawyer. Well before he finished his work at Columbia, young Franklin Roosevelt had married his distant cousin Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. They had been in love for some time and were determined to marry in spite of the opposition of Franklins mother.
The brides uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, was present at the ceremony in New York City on March 17, 1905. Five of their six children grew to maturity: Anna, James, Elliott, Franklin, Jr. , and John. The chief problem faced by the young couple during the early years of their marriage was Sara Roosevelts possessive attitude toward her son. Eleanors forbearance mitigated this situation, but the problem remained for many years. Roosevelt formally entered politics in 1910, when he became a candidate for the New York State Senate in a district composed of three upstate farming counties.
Democratic leaders had approached young Roosevelt because of his name and local prominenceand because he might be expected to pay his own election expenses. The 28-year-old Roosevelt campaigned hard, stressing his deep personal interest in conservation and other issues of concern in an agricultural area and also his strong support of honest and efficient government. In the first good year for Democrats since the early 1890s he was narrowly elected. He was only the second Democrat to represent his district after the emergence of the Republican Party in 1856.
In the state capitol at Albany, Roosevelt gained statewide publicity as the leader of a small group of upstate Democrats who refused to follow the leadership of Tammany Hall, also known as the Tammany Society, the Democratic Party organization of New York City. In particular, they refused to vote for the rich politician William F. Blue-Eyed Bill Sheehan for U. S. senator. Roosevelts group succeeded in blocking the election of Sheehan, which infuriated Tammany Hall. The dramatic struggle drew the attention of New York voters to the tall vigorous new state senator with the magic name of Roosevelt.
He soon became a dedicated social and economic reformer, and a political independent. He was reelected in 1912, in spite of a case of typhoid fever that kept him from campaigning. Roosevelt entrusted his campaign management to the journalist Louis McHenry Howe. Howe, a genius at politics, performed brilliantly. Henceforth, Roosevelt and Howe were to be almost inseparable, and Howe, a wizened and colorful little man, guided the political fortunes of the Hyde Park aristocrat.
Even before his reelection to the New York legislature, Roosevelt had entered the national political arena by taking part in the campaign of Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey for the Democratic nomination for president. Once again the young state senator was a member of a minority group among New York Democrats. When Wilson won at both the convention and the polls in 1912, his early supporters were rewarded, and Roosevelt became assistant secretary of the United States Navy. Roosevelt resigned his state senate seat and moved to Washington, D. C. , to take over the position once occupied by his cousin Theodore Roosevelt.
Franklin Roosevelts years as assistant secretary, from 1913 to 1920, taught him both how to get things accomplished and, just as important for an executive, how to avoid unnecessary trouble. He had the devoted assistance of Louis Howe, who came along to the nations capital as Roosevelts assistant. Roosevelts superior was Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, a North Carolina editor. Daniels was a close friend and devoted follower of Nebraska editor and former Representative William Jennings Bryan, three times the Democratic candidate for president and Wilsons secretary of state.
Like Bryan, Daniels was concerned about agrarian issues and was a progressive reformer. He was also an isolationist (someone who believed that the United States should avoid alliances with other nations), who hated the idea of war. Young Roosevelt, an energetic supporter of a bigger navy and soon a warm friend of most of the leading admirals, inevitably had many disagreements with his chief, especially during Wilsons first term. Daniels had the confidence both of the president and of the most influential Democrats in the Congress of the United States; Roosevelt had neither of these.
However, in time the two men came to have genuine respect for one anothers different talents, and they remained good friends. The Daniels-Roosevelt administration of the Navy Department was highly effective. American entry into World War I in 1917 found the navy in relatively good shape. Roosevelt, as the second in command, was particularly concerned with the civilian employees of the department. With the help of the energetic Howe, he made excellent contacts with labor leaders in the course of smoothing relations between the navy and its workers.
Roosevelt was also involved in the enormous build-up of the naval forces and with the general administration of the department. Frequent public speeches brought him to the attention of the public, and he soon had a reputation as a young man of great promise. He turned down an opportunity to win the Democratic nomination for governor of New York in 1918 in order to go on a three-month tour of duty in Europe, during which he visited the western front in France. Although he wanted to go on active duty as a naval officer, both Wilson and Daniels insisted that he stay on as assistant secretary of the navy.
He remained at that post until August 1920, when he resigned to campaign as the Democratic candidate for vice president. The Democratic National Convention of 1920 nominated as its candidate for president the governor of Ohio, James M. Cox. It was natural for the convention to turn to Roosevelt for the second position on the ticket. He was a member of the Wilson administration, closely identified with the League of Nations, an international association of countries that would, according to Wilson, prevent future wars.
Roosevelt was young, handsome, energetic, and had a reputation as a fine administrator. He also came from an important state. Nevertheless the Cox-Roosevelt campaign was hopeless, for the American people had had enough of Democratic leadership and quickly responded to the pledge of the Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding, for a return to normalcy. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously for a losing cause, making friends among Democratic leaders from coast to coast. After November 1920 he was a widely known public figure, even if he no longer held public office.
Roosevelt, still under 40, could afford to wait. Roosevelt resumed his law career on a part-time basis, and became vice president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. In this position he was in charge of the New York office of one of the most important companies handling bonds for public officials. Roosevelts wide contacts and administrative talents provided an excellent background for this situation. Roosevelt also dabbled in a series of speculative ventures, none of which turned out very well.
Personal tragedy struck Roosevelt in August 1921, when he contracted what was diagnosed, after an unfortunate delay, as poliomyelitis. He had been plagued by illness of various sorts during the previous decade, and he had overexerted himself swimming and hiking at Campobello. In great agony and completely unable to walk, Roosevelt seemed to have reached the end of his active public career. Indeed, his mother wanted him to return to Hyde Park for the peace and quiet of the life of a country gentleman. However, backed by the determination of his wife and Louis Howe, Roosevelt decided to return to his work as soon as possible.
In spite of the efforts of numerous specialists and of his strenuous exercises, particularly swimming at his second home in Warm Springs, Georgia, he was never again able to walk unaided. He spent most of his working hours in a wheelchair, and he walked with leg braces and canes, usually with help. Through the worst years of his paralysis, Roosevelt was amazingly cheerful. Eleanor Roosevelt often acted as her husbands eyes and ears, bringing him information and conferring with people he was no longer readily able to meet. Howe remained close by Roosevelt, assisting him in many ways and planning for his return to public life.
Roosevelt continued to busy himself with Democratic politics after his illness. In 1922 he aided Alfred E. Smith, who in that year made a successful political comeback and became governor of New York for the second time. In 1924 Roosevelt made a rousing nominating speech for Smith at the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, calling the governor the Happy Warrior. Although Smith was unable to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1924, he was reelected governor that year and again in 1926.
In 1928 Roosevelt again nominated Smith for president at the national convention. This time, Smith was chosen, becoming the first Roman Catholic nominated by a major U. S. party as its candidate for president. At Smiths urging, and against the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt and Louis Howe, Roosevelt agreed to run for governor. Smith, well aware that his own religion, his identification with urban issues, and his opposition to the prohibition of liquor would hurt him in rural Protestant areas, needed the help of Roosevelt in New York state.
Ironically, Roosevelt was elected governor by the narrow margin of 25,000 out of 4. 5 million votes cast, while Smith lost New York, and the presidency, to Herbert Hoover. Smith felt that his defeat was solely the result of religious prejudice, but it is unlikely that any Democrat could have defeated the Republicans in 1928. Roosevelt thus succeeded Smith as governor in January 1929. He soon made it clear that he was going to have his own administration by replacing key Smith associates, and before long there was coolness between the two former political allies.
Like Smith, Roosevelt had to cope with a Republican legislature. Since Smith had been responsible for a series of important social and administrative reforms, Roosevelt faced a difficult task in working out a distinctive program of his own. His first successes were in the fields of conservation and tax relief for farmers, areas in which he shared a common interest with his Republican legislators. In time he developed a skill as a political manager and a superb style of speaking on the radio. He was also careful to develop support among different groups for his plans.
In October 1929 the economic prosperity that the United States had enjoyed for most of the 1920s came to an abrupt end. During this period many people had put their savings and earnings in risky investments, particularly the buying of stocks on margin. In these cases, the buyer put up as little as 3 percent of a stocks price in cash and borrowed the remainder from the broker. The growing demand for stocks and the prosperous state of the nation as a whole caused stock prices to rise, which in turn encouraged more stock purchases.
Stock prices reached their height in the so-called Hoover bull market during the first six months of the Hoover administration. People invested billions of dollars in the stock market, obtaining money by borrowing from banks, mortgaging their homes, and selling lower-risk government securities, such as Liberty Bonds. In August 1929 approximately 300 million shares of stock had been purchased on margin. During normal business periods a share of stock had been purchased mostly for the dividend it paid, but during the Hoover bull market stocks were purchased increasingly to sell at a higher price.
Unfortunately, industry sales had begun to slow down, indicating that stock prices were likely to fall because industries would pay smaller dividends. In September 1929 some investors began selling stocks, believing prices had reached their highest level and would fall in the near future. Other investors began selling, too, and as they sold the price to buy those stocks began to fall more quickly. The decline in prices especially threatened those who had purchased on margin, because they owed their broker the amount of the original price of the stockeven if that stock was now worth only half as much.
As a result, by October 1929 the feverish buying had stopped and had given way to desperate selling. Prices dropped rapidly, and thousands of people lost all they had invested. Many were completely ruined financially. On October 29 the New York Stock Exchange, the largest in the world, had its worst day of panic selling. By the end of the day stock values had declined by $10 billion to $15 billion. Following the stock market crash of October 1929 Roosevelt found himself a depression governor, with new problems to face. In 1930 he was reelected by the unprecedented number of 725,000 votes.
As an energetic governor and a leading progressive reformer who was also head of the nations most populous state, Roosevelt was automatically a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932. His inability to walk unaided had proved to be no political problem; indeed, many New Yorkers were unaware that their governor used a wheelchair. Roosevelt and Howe planned the campaign carefully. As the front-runner, Roosevelt was in some danger of becoming the man against whom the other candidates might combine.
This could be fatal to his chances, since at that time it was necessary that a candidate secure two-thirds of the convention vote in order to win the nomination. Due to the growing unpopularity of the depression-ridden Hoover administration, 1932 looked like a Democratic year, and thus the Democratic nomination was pursued more aggressively than it had been for years. New York Democratic chairman James Aloysius Farley traveled across the country in the summer of 1931 and made friends for Roosevelt and himself in each state he visited.
He reported on his return that prospects were excellent for Roosevelt in all of these states except California, where newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst had great power and where the Democratic Party was a shambles. Hearsts newspapers, bitter in their attacks on Hoover, gave their support to Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas, whose isolationist views were more congenial to Hearst than were the views of a man still identified with former President Wilsons campaign for the League of Nations.
Roosevelt, in an effort to ensure that Hearst would not lead a fight against him, announced that he no longer favored U. S. entry into the League of Nations. This position angered many supporters of Wilson, who felt that Roosevelt had turned his back on Wilsons memory. Fortunately for Roosevelt his opponents for the nomination, including the now-embittered Al Smith, were never able to organize against him and keep him from getting the necessary two-thirds vote. The strongest opposition to Roosevelt came from city leaders in the Northeast.
His chief strength came from the South and West. He was nominated on the fourth ballot, after Garner agreed to accept the vice-presidential nomination. In part to demonstrate his physical capability and in part to show that he was ready to break with tradition, Roosevelt flew to Chicago, Illinois, to accept the nomination in person rather than wait weeks to reply to a formal notice of his nomination. In a dramatic speech to the convention, Roosevelt pledged a New Deal for the American people.
The term New Deal came to describe Roosevelts domestic policies, under which the government became much more directly involved in national social and economic affairs than ever before. Roosevelt had more difficulty in winning the Democratic nomination in 1932 than he had in defeating President Hoover. In spite of Hoovers unprecedented efforts to use the power of the federal government to overcome the Great Depression, he was completely identified with the policies of former U. S. presidents Warren Harding (1921-1923) and of Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), since he had served as secretary of commerce in both administrations.
Roosevelts task was essentially a simple one: to convince the American people that because the Republicans had claimed full credit for the prosperity of the 1920s, they should receive full blame for the depression. Roosevelt was spectacularly successful. He had an exuberance as a campaigner, a glowing confidence, and a warmth that was transmitted to his listeners. He toured widely by train, making brief appearances to cheering crowds and delivering carefully prepared speeches nearly every night. He promised to a despondent people a New Deal in manner and in spirit.
Roosevelt won a resounding victory, losing only six states out of a total of 48. Of the six, four were in traditionally Republican New England. When Roosevelt became president, on March 4, 1933, the Great Depression was at its worst. Sixteen million or more people were unemployed, and many had been out of work for a year or even longer. The American banking system had collapsed. Many states had declared so-called bank holidays, or enforced closings to prevent banks from being ruined when depositors withdrew all their money.
Although the American depression had been touched off by the stock market crash in New York City in October 1929, it had since become part of a worldwide economic collapse. Whether Americans would be satisfied with the new leadership depended on Roosevelts success in bringing aid to those in distress and in achieving some measure of economic improvement. Roosevelts first inaugural address, with its pledge to make war upon the depression and its ringing phrase, we have nothing to fear but fear itself, brought a new style to the U. S. presidency. Roosevelt was confident, both in himself as a leader and in the American people.
His liking for people came through to them over the radio and in the press. Out of his general bewilderment with the failure of the U. S. economy came few specific promises, but Americans probably felt more comfortable under the leadership of a man pledged to experiment than they had under Hoovers leadership, which had seemed inflexible. At least the prospect of change offered hope to the millions of people trapped in the depression. At this time, Roosevelt was 51. He was vigorous and hard-working but capable of relaxation and in excellent health and spirits.
His brief legislative experience and his public administrative careers had given him a wide acquaintance among political leaders. He was an irregular Democrat because he had asked for and obtained the support of progressive Republicans in his campaign and had rewarded several of them with high positions in his government. As president he sought to be president of all the people. He stressed that the conquest of the depression was above politics, one of Roosevelts favorite terms but one not popular with professional Democrats who wanted Roosevelt to give them government jobs.
It is noteworthy that Roosevelt frequently turned for help to people not previously identified with Democratic Party politics, such as what was called the Brain Trust, which was made up of faculty members from Columbia University (Raymond Moley, Adolf Berle, and Rexford Tugwell) and from Harvard (Thomas Corcoran and Benjamin Cohen). Roosevelt liked to learn through listening to and questioning experts, thus becoming familiar with different points of view. He was not usually communicative in return, and preferred to make up his mind in private. Indeed, he was a private person, as Tugwell put it, in spite of his warm public personality.
He had a genius for simple, clear speaking, and he projected a sense of dedication with a rousing style. He was at his best in press conferences, generally held twice a week. He knew how to handle questions easily, and had a quick sense of humor and an enormous fund of detailed information. The reporters usually liked him, and he received good press throughout his presidency, even when most newspaper publishers had turned against him and his policies. However, much of the most important work went to men and women who had never engaged in any sort of politics.
Louis Howe, now secretary to the president, continued to help his old chief but did not play an important role in creating policy. The Cabinet was generally undistinguished, but it did contain the first female Cabinet member, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. Roosevelt immediately called a special session of Congress to deal with the depression rather than wait for the regular session in December. The legislation passed by Congress and signed by Roosevelt in the spring of 1933 was remarkable, both in number of bills passed and in their scope.
Contemporaries called it the Hundred Days, a term that historians continue to use. No session of Congress had ever produced so much important legislation. Not until 1965 did another president or Congress accomplish as much. Roosevelt had called the special session to deal with the banking crisis, economy in government, and changes to the liquor law. Congress quickly responded to the first and third. The Emergency Banking Act, introduced, passed, and signed by the president during a single day, gave the federal government sweeping power to deal with the banking crisis.
The Beer Act raised the percentage of alcohol considered nonintoxicating from . 05 percent to 3. 2 percent. This made it possible to sell three-two, or low alcohol, beer, which had been illegal under the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (see Prohibition). The Economy Act, reducing government salaries and pensions to meet a Roosevelt campaign pledge, was bitterly opposed by many Democratic representatives and passed only because of intense pressure from Roosevelt and support by most Republicans in Congress. While Congress was acting on these matters, Roosevelt aggressively pushed other legislation.
Bills were frequently written by the executive branch, a procedure that made the legislative process faster and ensured that measures emerging from Congress would have the approval of the president. Congress worked quickly on most measures, but there was opposition from some members, especially those who felt that Roosevelt was not going far enough, fast enough. Roosevelts success in getting Congress to do so much of what he wanted was in part a result of a widespread desperation and in part a result of strong leadership. The basic New Deal legislation was passed in slightly more than five years, from 1933 to 1938.
Historians have frequently discussed these laws under the headings of the three Rs: relief, recovery, and reform. The most pressing problem facing Roosevelt, once the banking crisis had passed, was that of providing relief for the unemployed and their families. Private charities had long since run out of money, and few states could still provide any assistance. Under President Hoover the Reconstruction Finance Corporation had made loans to states to finance relief payments, although Hoover had long tried to avoid this step.
However, under Roosevelts Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the first of his major relief operations, large amounts of money were given to the states. Harry L. Hopkins, a tough-minded professional social worker who had administered state relief under Governor Roosevelt, was the head of FERA. He saw to it that available funds were spent quickly to provide help to as many as possible. The president and Hopkins, like President Hoover before them, believed in work relief, or payment for work performed, rather than the dole, a simple payment without any work requirement.
Although they felt that work relief would help to maintain the morale of the recipients, work projects took time to plan and were far more costly to administer than the simple dole. FERA did have a subdivision, the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which provided work relief for a large number of men during the winter of 1933 and 1934. However, due to the necessity of making the available money go as far as possible, the FERA essentially dispensed money through the state governments.
Unemployment persisted in the early years of Roosevelts presidency, in spite of some economic recovery. At the end of 1934 about one-sixth of the entire country was still on relief. In 1935 a new semipermanent organization, the Works Progress Administration (WPA, later renamed the Work Projects Administration), was set up by executive order and placed under Hopkins, and the FERA was abolished. The WPA provided work relief only, and due to lack of money many people on relief had to depend on the hard-pressed states for a dole.
Roads and streets were built or improved. Schools, libraries, and other public buildings were constructed or repaired. Artists, musicians, and writers performed for the benefit of the public. Administrative costs were higher than those of the FERA, but the projects carried out were more complex and useful. Two other relief operations were designed especially for young people. Both were of great interest to the president and his wife. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided work for unemployed and unmarried young men.
They received food and shelter and were paid $30 per month, of which $25 had to be given to relatives or dependents. More than a quarter of a million men, many of them from city slums, worked in the corps, living together in camps under the management of army officers. They benefited from the healthy outdoor work, their families benefited from the money, and the country benefited from the many worthy projects they completed. The National Youth Administration (NYA) provided needy high school and college students with part-time jobs at their schools.
The NYA also gave useful part-time employment to needy young people who were no longer in school. NYA workers normally earned from $5 to $15 per month. Although these sums were small, they proved valuable for the support of the recipients and their families during this period of great economic distress. Recovery Legislation When he took office, Roosevelt must have felt that his basic problem was how to bring about economic recovery. His predecessor, in spite of his philosophy of rugged individualism, had reluctantly accepted some government responsibility for improving the economy.
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), established under Hoover, provided loans to financial institutions, railways, and public agencies. Roosevelt reappointed the head of that organization, and with congressional approval, he made RFC loans easier to get and the RFC became a major recovery agency of the New Deal. Another Hoover policy, direct spending on major public works, was taken over and greatly expanded by Roosevelt. He set up a Public Works Administration (PWA) and put it under the jurisdiction of Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, a Republican reformer from Chicago.
Ickes proceeded slowly with PWA projects, for he had an obsessive and probably well-founded idea that if he did not watch closely, the PWA would provide politicians with opportunities for corruption. As a result of this slowness, Ickess PWA did not play a very important role in the early New Deal, and an increasingly larger share of money was given to the less tidy but more energetic relief operations of Ickess rival, Harry Hopkins. However, the PWA came into its own after the recession of 1937, when carefully prepared plans were ready to be implemented almost at once.
Huge public buildings, great dams, and irrigation and flood-control projects are part of PWAs legacy. The most spectacular agency designed to promote general economic improvement was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), an organization set up (along with the PWA) by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which was passed by Congress in June 1933. The NRA was designed to help business help itself. Unfair competition was supposed to be eliminated through the establishment of codes of fair competition; in effect, laws against combinations of large businesses were to be suspended in exchange for guarantees to workers.
These guarantees specifically included minimum wages, maximum hours, and the right to bargain as a group. Unfortunately, the NRA did not work as its supporters had hoped. The administrator, the colorful former army officer Hugh S. Johnson, let the code-making get out of hand. Eventually there were hundreds of codes for different industrial groups. Johnsons patriotic speeches, with which he sought to sell the NRA to the American people, began to wear thin after a while. Johnson resigned in 1934, and the NRA was unanimously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1935.
A special recovery agency for one major segment of the economy was the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), set up in the Department of Agriculture and supervised by Secretary Henry A. Wallace, a farm editor, scientist, and son of a former Republican secretary of agriculture. The AAA sought to eliminate overproduction of basic crops and thus to bring prices back to the average prices of the period from 1909 to 1914, a time of agricultural prosperity. The AAA had authority to buy surplus crops and to make payments to producers to restrict production.
It concentrated at first on cotton, wheat, corn, and hogs, the most important products of the Midwest and the South. The plans of the AAA to restrict production and to raise prices were aided by a series of droughts and windstorms on the Great Plains, and farm prices rose steadily during Roosevelts first term. The AAA was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1936, but a so-called voluntary system was established by Congress in 1936 for the same purposes as the AAA. In 1938 the second AAA was created by Congress.
This AAA was more complex and did not rely on a special tax, and it survived. The laws that later generations tended to think of as the New Deal were mainly reform laws. Franklin Roosevelt had been a reformer, a believer in progress and in government-sponsored social and economic change, from the time he first took public office in 1911. The reform impulse in America had been frustrated since the 1918 election victories by conservative politicians, who believed that government should not be involved in social reform.
Now that impulse was revived in the Great Depression by President Roosevelt, often under pressure from congressional liberals, who were concerned with the development of personal freedom and social progress, and from reform movements outside the government. Between 1933 and 1938, major legislation passed by Congress constituted the most sweeping reform program since the progressive period of 1901 to 1907. In general, these reforms increased the existing regulatory activities of the federal government.
After Roosevelts administrations the government was involved in regulating many more areas of economic activity. Banking and currency were in obvious need of attention, since the banking system had virtually collapsed by March 1933 and the drain of gold had placed a great strain on the dollar. Banking legislation passed in the first Roosevelt term created insurance for small savings depositors, separated commercial and investment banking, and greatly increased the authority of the Federal Reserve Board, the government agency that oversees banking activity.
In order to protect the currency, Roosevelt secured authority from Congress to take the United States off the gold standard and to devalue the dollar. However, once he discovered that devaluing the dollar did not in itself help to bring about economic recovery, he was unenthusiastic about tinkering with the currency. Related to these reforms was the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission, an independent agency empowered to regulate the sale of stocks and bonds.
The first chairman of the commission was Joseph P. Kennedy, an early Roosevelt supporter who was himself a wealthy speculator. In the campaign of 1932 Roosevelt had strongly criticized the tariff, or import tax, policies of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations, blaming the decline of world trade on those Republican presidents. He appointed Senator Cordell Hull of Tennessee as secretary of state. A fervent free trader, Hull felt that his main duty should be to eliminate trade barriers by lowering import tariffs.
Some of the early New Dealers did not share Hulls enthusiasm. For more than a year they were able to block his program, while Roosevelt concerned himself with purely domestic efforts. However, Hull stubbornly persisted in his course, eventually winning the presidents support and the passage of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, one of the most ingenious of the New Deal measures. This act did not attempt to alter existing import taxes by law. Hull and others knew very well how difficult it was to achieve tariff reform this way.
Instead, the act authorized the president to negotiate agreements with other nations for a mutual lowering of import taxes. Such agreements did not have to be ratified by the Senate, and they could cut existing tariffs by 50 percent. The most-favored-nation clause promised that the United States would offer the same tariff rates to all countries with which it had signed a commercial treaty. If the United States lowered tariffs further in a treaty with another nation, it would have to lower tariffs for all nations with most-favored-nation status.
By this method benefits from these agreements were slowly extended uniformly to all nations with whom such agreements had been made. Although Hull did not secure free trade, he did significantly lower tariff barriers. At the same time, he provided a method for taking tariff making out of the hands of Congress. The federal government also became involved with housing. In the depths of the depression many people lost their homes because they were unable to make payments on their housing loans, called mortgages.
Lending institutions then seized these homes but were often unable to resell them or even rent them. Two of the most popular of the early New Deal agencies were the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which helped individuals by refinancing their home loans so that banks did not seize the homes, and the Federal Housing Administration, which helped banks by taking most of the risk out of home loans by insuring loans up to 80 percent of the value of the property. In his second term, President Roosevelt secured the passage of legislation that allowed him to set up the U.
S. Housing Authority. This agency helped to rebuild slums and encouraged low-cost housing construction, of major importance because it was the first direct involvement of the federal government in building houses. One of the most sweeping and imaginative New Deal reforms was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), an independent federal corporation set up to improve conditions in a depressed area of 103,600 sq km (40,000 sq mi) in seven states. Chiefly responsible for this scheme was Senator George W.
Norris of Nebraska, a progressive Republican who had almost single-handedly blocked the sale of government-owned power sites on the Tennessee River during the 1920s and who was a firm believer in government ownership and operation of public utilities such as power and water companies. Roosevelt was a widely known advocate of publicly owned power, which he saw as a yardstick with which to measure the real costs of private power companies. He was greatly attracted to the TVA because of its possibilities for the conservation of natural and human resources.
The TVA built a series of dams for power production, flood control, and navigation improvement. It distributed its own water-generated, or hydroelectric, power to many who never before had enjoyed the benefits of electricity. The TVA also produced cheap fertilizers. As a result, the standard of living of the people in its area steadily improved. The TVA was seen as a direct threat to the countrys private-power companies, and it was not imitated elsewhere, although the Roosevelt administration did build dams and power plants in the West. The most far-reaching of the New Deal reform measures was the Social Security Act of 1935.
During the first two years of Roosevelts presidency a commission studied the problems caused by unemployment, old age, and physical disability and sought to determine the part that should be played by the federal government in alleviating these problems. Unemployment insurance, financed by a federal payroll tax paid in equal parts by employers and employees, was established as a joint federal-state program. An old-age pension system was set up to be administered by the federal government and financed by taxes on both employers and employees.
Other provisions of the Social Security Act provided federal money to encourage the states to care for dependent children and the blind. The Social Security Act did not include health insurance because the commission and the president considered that its inclusion would jeopardize the passage of the act (see Social Security). After the National Industrial Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed to workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, free from interference by employers. The act set up the National Labor Relations Board as an independent agency.
The board was a major force assisting the rapid growth of trade unions in the New Deal era. By statute it was required to be in favor of labor, and it played its role with enthusiasm. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was the last important act of the New Deal. This measure set a minimum wage and a limit to the hours worked. It was moderate in its provisions, gradual in its application, and limited in its scope, but it established an important precedent. The New Deal programs were closely associated with the personality of President Roosevelt, about whom the politics of the 1930s revolved.
His skill at clarifying problems and in explaining the solutions he and his associates had devised made him almost an intimate friend of the American people. For almost six years his popularity with the majority of the people grew. In 1934 the already huge Democratic majorities in Congress were increased, a rare thing for a party in power in non-presidential, or off-year, elections. In 1936 these majorities were raised even higher. The number of Republicans left in the House was less than 100; only 17 Republicans remained in the Senate, and about half of them supported the New Deal.
Not until the off-year election of 1938 did the Republican Party show any signs of renewed vigor. Leftists felt that he was missing a priceless opportunity to move toward socialism, or the direct involvement of government in the economy. From 1935 on, however, his principal opposition came from conservatives, especially the reviving business community. These elements had been so stunned by the depression and so grateful at first to Roosevelt for his efforts to promote recovery within the framework of the capitalist system that they scarcely opposed him.
However, beginning in 1935, the economy began to recover and the labor movement, encouraged by New Deal legislation, began to be effective. In addition the Supreme Court began to declare New Deal legislation unconstitutional. These developments encouraged conservatives to oppose the administration. The 1936 Election In 1936 Roosevelt won his greatest victory when he received more than 60 percent of the popular vote and won every state except Maine and Vermont. The Republican candidate, Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas, was a progressive himself and accepted much of the New Deal program while deploring how it was being administered.
However, Landon was a dull campaigner. His advisers pushed him to the right during the campaign, and he ended with very little support. Careful students of politics saw in the 1936 election a considerable amount of voting by social or economic class, with workers and those who lived in the cities voting overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. Decline in Popularity Middle-class support for the New Deal began to slip away in 1937 and 1938, and the Democratic Party became more than ever the party of urban labor. Three major events seem to have contributed to this change.
First was a series of sit-down strikes, in which the militant new unions of the Committee for Industrial Organization, later known as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), kept their men inside plants during strikes. This technique, used by the new unions in the automobile industry, violated property rights. Many middle-class Americans were antagonized by this, as they were by the labor war between the CIO and the more traditional American Federation of Labor (AFL). The movement to enlarge the Supreme Court that he suddenly presented to Congress in 1937.
Roosevelt argued that the court was behind in its work, partly due to the advanced age of many members. However, it was clear that what really irritated him was a series of decisions that had declared much of his program unconstitutional. A group of Democratic senators, including several former New Deal supporters, deserted the administration on this issue, and the president suffered his first major defeat in Congress. However, the court reversed the trend of its decisions after the court plan, and most New Deal legislation was allowed to stand. The third event was probably the most damaging of all.
It was the so-called Roosevelt recession that began in the fall of 1937 with another stock market crash. The recession lasted until after the resumption of large-scale government spending the following spring. This recession had been preceded by more efficiency in government and a balanced budget, courses promoted by conservative secretary of the treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. The effect of the Roosevelt recession was to convince many people that the administration did not have any magic formula for prosperity and that the earlier recovery had been based on the government spending more money than it collected.
In the elections of 1938 the Republicans made a comeback in several key industrial states and substantially increased their congressional representation. It was freely predicted that the Republicans would regain the presidency in 1940. Many felt that Roosevelt would not run for president again, thanks to the tradition that no candidate ran for more than two terms. However, by the time the Democratic National Convention met in the summer of 1940, a grave international crisis was at its height, and Roosevelt was given his third nomination for president.
Roosevelt defeated the Republican candidate, the lawyer and businessman Wendell L. Willkie, but he won by a much narrower margin than he had in 1936. Whether Roosevelt would have been renominated, and whether he would have accepted if nominated, in the absence of the world crisis will never be known. However, it is clear that his experience in foreign affairs had much to do with his winning an unprecedented third term. Although in 1932, Roosevelt denied that he believed the United States should become a member of the League of Nations, he seems never to have given up the faith in collective security he had developed under Wilson.
He was disappointed in the accomplishments of the league, but like many of the leagues supporters he blamed many of its troubles on the failure of the United States to join. After his election in 1932, but before his inauguration, he conferred with Hoovers secretary of state, Henry L. Stimson, and accepted the so-called Stimson Doctrine of refusing to recognize the recent conquest of Manchuria by Japan. Thus, before he had become president, one of the cardinal principles of Roosevelts foreign policy, opposition to Japanese efforts to dominate East Asia, had been established.
Another basic Roosevelt foreign policy was the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America. The phrase good neighbor, used by the president in his first inaugural address, meant in practice that the United States would no longer intervene in Latin America to protect private American property interests. American support for the savage Cuban dictatorship of Gerardo Machado was withdrawn, and a revolution soon turned him out. The removal of the last U. S. Marines from Haiti in 1934 ended direct financial control by the United States.
Secretary of State Hulls reciprocal trade program, which resulted in several agreements with Latin American republics, lowered trade barriers on some goods and was thus popular in many Central and South American nations. Hull went to the Pan American Conference at Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1933 to give full support to the important principle that no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another. The administration acted in accordance with this principle when Mexico seized foreign-owned oil properties. Unlike Great Britain, the United States did not break off diplomatic relations with Mexico.
Eventually the American companies worked out their own settlement with the Mexican government. The ambassador to Mexico, Josephus Daniels, was Roosevelts old chief in the Navy Department. The actions of these two men did more than anything else to convince most of the Latin American governments that the United States could be a good neighbor. Toward Europe, President Roosevelts policies seemed at first to be almost isolationist, in spite of his background. He did agree to go ahead with U. S. participation in the World Economic Conference, scheduled to take place in London in the summer of 1933.
President Hoover had promised U. S. attendance. However, Roosevelt did not have much faith in the ability of the conference to agree on measures to stabilize the value of the dollar. Except for Hull, most of the U. S. delegates were of minor importance. Roosevelt eventually undercut the conference by saying that he had little interest in currency stabilization and by announcing that he would work for economic recovery in other ways. He was strongly influenced by advisers, who had no faith in European central bankers and felt that there was nothing to be gained by tying the U. S. economy to a hazardous international agreement.
Unquestionably, Roosevelts action was made easy by the prevailing isolationism in the United States. Some said the distress of these years was because of disillusionment caused by U. S. participation in World War I. Encouraged by congressional investigations and the works of a number of writers and politicians, many Americans felt that the United States should have stayed out of that conflict. This feeling was so strong that Congress passed a number of neutrality acts, which among other things forbade private American loans to nations that werent paying their debts to the United States.
Other acts required the president to place an embargo on the shipment of arms to nations at war, authorized him to keep U. S. citizens from sailing on the ships of those nations, and forbade the carrying by American ships of guns or ammunition to countries at war. Roosevelt sought but was denied the right to discriminate between aggressors and their victims. A majority in Congress believed that trading arms with countries that were at war was a dangerous activity. Some belligerent country, isolationists argued, would inevitably attack some of the shipments and draw the United States into another European war.
However, the balance of power in Europe was already shifting, and President Roosevelt was unable to pursue his domestic program without paying some attention to the international situation. During his first term, Italy, led by the dictator Benito Mussolini, conquered the eastern African empire of Ethiopia, in spite of mild economic punishment imposed on Italy as an aggressor by the League of Nations. Soon afterward, Germany, headed by the dictator Adolf Hitler, placed troops and weapons in the Rhineland in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, which had been signed at the end of World War I.
In the summer of 1936, Italy and Germany gave vital assistance to the military forces leading a revolution against the Spanish republic. Not only did Britain and France do nothing, but the United States put its own unofficial embargo on the shipment of weapons to Spain, a course legalized by Congress when it convened in 1937. The U. S. policy toward Spain was isolationism carried as far as it could be carried, since under international law the government of Spain had the right to carry on trade, and the rebels were without legal status.
One of the most significant evidences of Roosevelts growing concern with the precarious state of world peace came soon after his reelection in 1936. He journeyed by sea to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to attend a special Inter-American Conference for Peace, where he warned that non-American nations proposing to commit acts of aggression against us will find a hemisphere wholly prepared to consult together for our mutual safety and our mutual good. Less than a year later, following the renewal of Japanese attacks on China, Roosevelt in a dramatic speech in Chicago proposed that a quarantine be placed on aggressor nations.
Chiefly because of the lack of enthusiasm of Secretary Hull and the British, nothing came directly out of this proposal. However, it was a significant speech because it displayed Roosevelts long-held belief in a system of collective security. Soon afterward, the president requested a billion-dollar appropriation for naval expansion, and then almost at once he asked for even more. Congress obliged, and the defense build-up was under way. The amount of money spent on defense grew enormously. The United States under Roosevelt was quickly preparing for a new war, which seemed close at hand.
In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria and in 1939, it took over the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Large parts of Czechoslovakia had already been lost when Britain and France agreed to allow Germany to absorb German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia under the Munich Pact in 1938. At the end of August 1939 the Germans concluded a nonaggression pact with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which ensured that, if Germany went to war with France and Britain on one front, the Germans would not have to face the USSR on a second front.
When the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the Poles appealed to France and Britain for help. There was little that the Western powers could do to prevent the rapid occupation of Poland by the Germans, and, in the east, by the Soviets, except to declare war on Germany, which they did on September 3, 1939. Defense Buildup Roosevelt at once convened a special session of Congress and asked it to lift the embargo on the sale of munitions (weapons), a provision that chiefly hurt the Western countries opposed to Hitler and Germany, known as the Allies.
After a sharp debate, Congress complied with the request. It passed the so-called cash-and-carry act, which permitted Americans to sell munitions to nations able to pay for them in cash and able to carry them away in ships registered abroad. Congress did not change any other provision of the neutrality acts, however (see World War II). Unlike President Wilson in 1914, Roosevelt made no secret of his partiality for Britain and France. He loathed Hitler and his National Socialism, or Nazi, Party and considered them a threat to U. S. security.
When the Germans quickly defeated Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in the spring of 1940, Roosevelt came quickly to the aid of the British, now carrying on alone against Germany. Not only did he ask Congress for more defense money, but he took steps to establish a kind of coalition government. He brought into the two key military posts in the U. S. Cabinet distinguished Republicans who shared his alarm at the Nazi threat. Henry L. Stimson became Roosevelts secretary of war, and Frank Knox, a Chicago newspaper publisher and Republican candidate for vice president in 1936, was made secretary of the navy.
Roosevelt also appointed leaders of the business community to a defense advisory commission. In September 1940 Roosevelt secured the passage of the United States first peacetime conscription measure, the Selective Training and Service Act (see Selective Service). Under it, men between 21 and 35 were required to register for a year of military training. Roosevelt was also impressed with the great danger to the survival of Britain caused by German planes and submarines. Thus, in September he also transferred 50 U. S. estroyers to Britain in exchange for eight naval bases in the western hemisphere. Fortunately for the success of the destroyers-bases arrangement, the 1940 Republican candidate for president, Wendell Willkie, endorsed it. Isolationists and others who disliked Roosevelts policy of aid to Britain thus had no major party alternative in the election. Lend-Lease Following his reelection in 1940, President Roosevelt moved ahead with the dual policy of building up U. S. defenses while giving assistance to those countries resisting the aggression of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The major legislation was the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941, passed over the bitter opposition of the isolationists in Congress and their national organization, the America First Committee. The Lend-Lease Act authorized the president to transfer to victims of aggression such military equipment (a term interpreted to include food and clothing) as could be produced in the United States and acquired by the government. This act, which was destined to be extended for the length of World War II, began with an appropriation of $7 billion.
It was an emphatic announcement of support for the hard-pressed British. When Germany attacked the USSR in June 1941 and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill welcomed the Soviets as allies, Roosevelt extended the privileges of lend-lease to the USSR. Thus, the United States was virtually at war in the spring and summer of 1941, sending aid to Britain and the USSR and even patrolling the Atlantic Ocean with the U. S. Navy. Roosevelt officially became wartime president after Japan attacked the United States on December 7, 1941.
Although he had opposed Japanese expansion in Asia from the time he took office, Roosevelt was kept from assisting China to any extent by the difficulties of geographical distance and by American isolationism. When the Japanese attacked China again in 1937 without a declaration of war, terming the hostilities a mere incident, Roosevelt refused to recognize the existence of a state of war and thus avoided the application of the neutrality laws. Such enforcement would have discriminated against the Chinese, and Roosevelt was as openly pro-Chinese in Asia as he was openly pro-British in Europe.
In 1940 the administration notified Japan that the existing commercial treaty between the two countries would be ended. The administration increased U. S. aid to China and placed an embargo on the export of iron and steel scrap, an important part of U. S. trade with Japan. In Japan, militarists took complete control of the government in 1941 and prepared for a showdown. The carrier-based airplane attack upon the U. S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, caught the U. S. garrison by surprise and resulted in the sinking or damaging of a large number of ships.
The Japanese did not succeed in destroying any aircraft carriers, however, and they were unable or unwilling to follow through with an invasion of Hawaii. At the request of Roosevelt, who called December 7 a day which will live in infamy, Congress declared war on Japan. When Germany and Italy came to the assistance of their Japanese allies by declaring war on the United States, Roosevelt and Congress reciprocated by declaring war on them. Roosevelt threw himself into the role of wartime leader with determination and enthusiasm.
He was convinced that the security of the United States depended on the defeat of Germany, Italy, and Japan. He was also certain that the greatest threat came from Germany. Even before Pearl Harbor he had spoken with Prime Minister Churchill in a naval vessel off Newfoundland, Canada, and had joined in issuing the Atlantic Charter on August 14, 1941. This document denied any desire for any territorial changes not desired by the peoples concerned. It also stressed the goals of improved economic conditions, freedom from fear, and the disarmament of aggressors.
This document reflected many of Woodrow Wilsons ideas that had so strongly influenced Roosevelt, but it is significant that it is much more general than Wilsons Fourteen Points, a program to establish a basis for lasting peace following World War I; it included a proposal for the League of Nations. Roosevelt was determined not to repeat what he considered Wilsons mistakes: the announcement of specific objectives, the refusal to bring Republicans into the Cabinet, and the failure to involve Republicans in diplomatic negotiations in preparation for peace. Roosevelts leadership included a number of activities.
He had to decide, in consultation with Churchill and the Soviets, upon basic military strategy. He had to promote defense production without creating inflation, and he had to determine the allocation of the goods among the several theaters of war and the various Allied powers. In these activities he had the tireless assistance of his former relief administrator, Harry Hopkins, who became his principal diplomat. The president also had to oversee the buildup of an enormous army and navy. By the end of the war more than 15 million people had served in the armed forces of the United States.
Finally, Roosevelt had to explain war developments to the American people to maintain their support, which was essential to victory. In that year four major events took place: the defeat of the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway in the mid-Pacific; the containment of the Japanese southern thrust at Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands; the successful Allied invasion of French North Africa; and the Battle of Stalingrad, the beginning of the end for the Germans in the USSR (see Volgograd). In January 1943 Roosevelt and Churchill met at Casablanca, Morocco, to make further plans and to confer with French leaders.
At Casablanca Roosevelt announced the policy of insisting upon unconditional surrender by the enemy. In November 1943 the president met with Churchill and the Chinese leader, Chiang Kai-shek, at Cairo, Egypt. There a number of plans for the war against Japan were worked out. Roosevelt also conferred twice with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Following the Cairo conference, he and Churchill journeyed to Tehrn, Iran, to meet Stalin. The Chinese were not invited, since the USSR was not at war with Japan. At Tehrn the leaders agreed upon an invasion of France by U. S. nd British forces in the spring of 1944, to take some of the pressure off the Soviets. Finally, the Big Three, as they were called, conferred again in February 1945 at Yalta, in Crimea. The Yalta Conference, occurring as the European war seemed about to end, resulted in several agreements, including: the nature of the postwar international organization (later called the United Nations); the military occupation and free elections in eastern Europe; the postwar division and occupation of Germany; and the entry of the USSR into the war against Japan following the end of the European war (see Cold War).
In the early spring of 1945 he went to Warm Springs, Georgia, in an effort to recapture his flagging energy. There he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Harry Truman took the oath of office to become president the same day. Many were shocked by the death of the man who had been president of the United States longer than any other. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died knowing that his plans for victory were coming to a successful conclusion, but he was aware that the Soviet Union was already breaking the agreements about free elections in eastern Europe. He was laid to rest in the rose garden in the family estate at Hyde Park.