New Deal America
June 14, 1932, Republicans met in Chicago and re-nominated Hoover. There was a sense of doom in the air, no one felt they had a chance. The Democrats, to the contrary, also met in Chicago, and were very upbeat. They felt in their bones that the election was theirs. They nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the fourth ballot.
Roosevelt broke with tradition and flew to the Convention to accept the nomination personally. In his acceptance speech, he said to the delegates, "I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people." The "New Deal" became the name of Roosevelt’s recovery program. His campaign song was "Happy Days are Here Again."
Roosevelt was born in 1882 to a wealthy Hyde Park, New York family. He had attended a private boarding school, earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia University Law School, and married his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. She was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece.
He had led the life of an aristocrat, but had a sincere affinity for common people, and was very charming at times. He smoked cigarettes with a long cigarette holder, which made his speech seem a bit close-mouthed.
Once, when he returned from a business trip, his wife was unpacking his suitcase, and found love letters to him from a secretary. She almost divorced him, but was talked out of it by his mother, who was a dominating domineering woman all of his life. However, she moved into a separate bedroom, and never slept in the same bed with him for the rest of their lives.
He had served briefly as assistant secretary of the navy, and later ran for Vice President, but lost. At age 39 (1921) he suffered an attack of polio that put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He could not stand or walk without braces. He was governor of New York at the time of his nomination for President. The press, unlike the press of today, went to great lengths to avoid showing him in his wheel chair. He was always pictured standing, or sitting.
Americans were more swayed by Roosevelt’s confidence than the content of his speeches. Hoover never demonstrated the confidence that Roosevelt did.
It is somewhat surprising that, given the desperate times, more people did not turn to radical candidates. The Socialist Party did run a candidate, as did the communists; but in the end, Roosevelt won easily. Hoover carried only four states in New England plus Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Electoral College vote was 472 –59.
The inauguration of Roosevelt was the last to occur in March. The Twentieth Amendment ratified February 6, 1933, provided Presidents would take office on January 20, and the new Congress on January 3.Herbert Hoover was extremely bitter over his defeat. He felt that he had been unjustly blamed for the Great Depression, and he was partially right. When Roosevelt called at the White House on inauguration day, as is customary, Hoover kept him standing for several minutes before he came into the room, even though he knew that it was painful for Roosevelt to stand with his paralysis. On the ride to the Capital together in a convertible, Hoover was noticeably glum; so much so that Roosevelt found it difficult to make conversation. At one point, looking at some of the buildings along the way, and knowing that Hoover was an engineer, he remarked, "nice buildings." Hoover didn’t say a word.
The winter of 1932-33 became known as the "interregnum of despair." Unemployment continued to rise, and panic struck the banking system. Banks began closing as they could not meet deposits. Rumors spread of bank failures, and bank "runs" became rampant, people lining up at banks to withdraw deposits before the bank failed. Of course the runs themselves often brought down the banks. Many governors found it necessary to close banks to stop runs. When the Hoover administration ended, 4/5 of the nation’s banks were closed. The country was on the brink of economic paralysis.
In his inaugural address, Roosevelt told the country, "we have nothing to fear, but fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." He said also, "I shall ask the Congress for the remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe."
***Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, was the first woman cabinet member.Roosevelt put together a "brain trust" of advisors to help him determine how best to deal with the economy. He received conflicting advice from vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws to suspension of antitrust laws, to massive government spending programs. Roosevelt vacillated. He was willing to try some of each, but didn’t want to embrace all of them. When a reported asked Roosevelt to label his philosophy, Roosevelt replied, "Philosophy? I am a Christian and a Democrat. That’s all."
Overall, however, Roosevelt was very pragmatic; he was looking for practical solutions, not idealist programs. He once said, "Take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly, and try another." He also said, "I have no expectation of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average."
Note: Compare Roosevelt’s philosophy with that of Woodrow Wilson.
First order of business for Roosevelt was the banking crisis. On his second day in office, he called Congress into special session on March 9, and declared a four-day banking holiday. This allowed time for people’s panic to calm down, and the banks to catch their breath. Congress immediately passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act that allowed sound banks to reopen, and troubled banks to have new federally appointed managers.
Roosevelt often talked by Radio to the American people in what he called "fireside chats." He wanted to create the image of sitting in American’s living rooms chatting with them by the fireplace. In the first of these, on March 12, he said that it was safer to "Keep your money in a reopened bank than under the mattress." The following day when banks reopened, deposits exceeded withdrawals and by March 15, 9/10 of the country’s banks were operating again. This got him past the immediate banking crisis; now he was ready to move on to other problems.
Congress then passed:
·Economy Act: granted the executive branch the power to cut salaries, reduce payments to veterans, and reorganize federal agencies in the interest of economy.
·Beer-Wine Act to amend the Volstead Act, and allow the sale of beverages with alcoholic content of 3.2 % (the amount of a weak beer.)
The 21st Amendment had already been submitted to the States, and was ratified December 5, which put an end to prohibition.
Between March 9 to June 16, the so-called Hundred Days, Congress passed fifteen major legislative proposals. The speed of these enactments was the fastest ever seen in American History.
Note: On pp. 1239 -1240 of Tindall and Shi. Also in Bailey.
Roosevelt issued an executive decree that reorganized the farm credit agencies into the Farm Credit Administration. Congress authorized refinancing of farm mortgages at lower rates. Also:
·Home Owner’s Loan Act provided city dwellers with lower mortgage rates with lower payments.
·The Glass-Steagell Banking Act: created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to guarantee bank deposits up to $5,000.00.
·Federal Securities Act: required disclosure of information about stock and bond issues.
·April 5, Roosevelt ordered all gold turned into the Federal Reserve Banks. It was then illegal for Americans to own gold, except for a special exemption of $100.00 for coin collectors (Numismatists) and personal jewelry. Shortly thereafter, the government abandoned the gold standard, and cancelled the gold clause in federal and private contracts; so that all contracts could be paid in legal tender (Paper money.) Finally, with the Gold Reserve Act, the president was authorized to impound all gold in Federal Reserve Banks and the price was set at $25.00 per ounce.
This was a relatively high price for gold at the time, and as a result, most of the world’s gold supply ended up in the U.S. where it was buried in the vaults at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
One of Congress’ first steps toward relief was creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC). It was designed to create work for unemployed, unmarried young men 18 0 25.
Young men in the Corp worked in forests, parks, soil conservation, etc. They built roads and bridges, camping facilities, fish hatcheries, planted trees, and fought fires. They were paid $30.00 per month, and were required to send $25.00 of it back to their families. They lived in camps under semi-military discipline.
Like the military, CCC camps were racially segregated. In Texas, blacks were originally told that the camps were for whites only. This wasn’t true, of course.
The first large-scale experiment with work relief was the Civil Works Administration (1933-34), which provided jobs and wages for those able to work. Many of its jobs were "make-work" jobs, such as ditch digging, and leaf raking; but it did perform some useful functions, such as highway repairs. It was abandoned in the spring of 1934 because it had gotten people past the winter. Roosevelt still favored work relief over the public dole, however; as they thought handouts had a debilitating psychological effect.
Roosevelt’s "brain trust" believed that the only way to keep the economy operating at capacity was efficient regulation of business, not trust-busting. They were convinced of this after the success of centralized planning in World War I.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act: Many farmers could not afford to plant or harvest crops after the collapse of commodity prices. The AAA planned to control farm production through compensating farmers for voluntary cutbacks in production. The idea was to restore prices to "parity."
As luck would have it, farmers produced another bumper crop while Congress was in the process of implementing the AAA. As a result, the AAA had to consider a "plow under" program.
There was some opposition to plowing under crops and slaughtering pigs (some 6 million were slaughtered without being sent to market) when people were hungry, but the Agriculture Secretary, Henry A. Wallace, said that farmers had to do just like other producers; cut production to fit the market and thereby raise prices.
Wallace basically said that there wasn’t much difference in the marketing requirements of pigs and pig iron.The AAA only worked temporarily, it did raise prices on cotton and other commodities; but when the crop came in heavy again, prices began to fall. So, Congress implemented the Commodity Credit Corporation, which extended loans to farmers on crops that were kept in storage and off the market.
These measures worked for a while; but were only partially responsible for the increase in farm prices. More important in raising prices was the drought in the Plains states between 1932 and 1935, which cut production and created the "dust bowl."John Steinbeck describes the dustbowl in The Grapes of Wrath.
Another problem was that the programs caused many large farmers to take land worked by tenant farmers and sharecroppers off production first. These people were then literally driven off the land, because it was to the farmer’s advantage to take the land out of production, and farm his own land at the same time.
In United States vs. Butler, the Supreme Court voted 6 – 3 that the AAA was unconstitutional, because farm production was intrastate, and thus beyond the power of congress to regulate interstate commerce. Later, when a second case reached the court, a change in court membership resulted in a different result.
The industrial counterpart to the AAA was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) passed June 16, 1933. It had two major parts:
A. The Public Works Administration (PWA), which built public buildings, highways, etc. The PWA used private contractors rather than putting workers directly under the government’s payroll.
Among the projects built by the PWA were Skyline Drive in Virginia; the Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West, Florida; and the Chicago Subway system.
Not positively sure, but I THINK the Intracoastal Waterway was a PWA project.
B.The National Recovery Administration. Its purpose was to stabilize business by reducing competition, set wages and prices, and generate more purchasing power by providing jobs, defining labor standards, and raising wages. Codes were set up called "fair practice" codes.
The NRA’s symbol was a Blue Eagle. It was modeled on an Indian thunderbird, and had the slogan, "we do our part" embellished on the shield. In the movie "Billy Bathgate;" when Dutch Schultz is meeting in the bank with the banker, an NRA poster appears in the background.
The NRA was basically a failure. In May, 1935, the Supreme Court declared the program unconstitutional, and no one was sad to see it go. However, it was responsible for setting new standards, such as the forty-hour workweek, and the end of child labor.
C. The Tennessee Valley Authority: The Tennessee River Valley was one of the most underdeveloped and poverty-stricken areas of the country. Illiteracy and disease were rampant. Congress created the TVA to build dams and bring electricity to the area. By 1936, it had built six dams, and had a master plan to build nine high dams on the river. It created a system known as the "Great Lakes of the South."
The TVA was largely responsible for the birth of commercial electricity for mass consumer markets. Farmers suddenly went from the age of kerosene to the age of electricity. The TVA was largely responsible for the creation of rural electric cooperatives.
The Second New DealRoosevelt’s programs and personal charm aroused massive support. He held news conferences twice each week, and had "fireside chats" over the radio, in which he encouraged people to imagine that he was sitting in their living room with them chatting by the fireplace. In the mid-term election of 1934, the Democrats actually increased their strength in the House and Senate.
Over time, however, the sense of crisis passed, and the sense of unity passed with it. Even some conservative Democrats began to oppose Roosevelt’s programs.
By far the biggest threat came from snake oil salesmen, such as Huey P. Long, Jr. Long was a short, squat man with a round red face, and pug nose. He often wore pink suits and pastel shirts, red ties, two-toned shoes, like a used car salesman. He played the part of a country bumpkin, but was in actuality very smooth, and could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. He was a lawyer in Louisiana who was elected Governor, and later became the state’s political boss. He delivered free textbooks to schools, charity hospitals, etc, at the price of corruption.
Long began a program entitled "Share our Wealth." The idea was to liquidate large personal fortunes, guarantee every family an allowance of $5,000.00, and every worker an income of $2,500.00, pensions to old people, etc. He also promised a college education to every qualified student.Long had enough support that he could have even challenged Roosevelt for the Presidency. He was the ultimate political boss. He was only stopped when he was assassinated by his own brother in law on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol building.
A novel which portrays the life and work of Long is "All the King’s Men."There were other schemes. One was called the Townsend Club, which said that the government should give $200.00 per month to every person over 60, provided they promised to spend it within the month. Another, promoted by Father Charles E. Coughlin, the "radio priest" of Michigan, proposed all sorts of plans that sounded very anti-Semitic.
All of these people were hucksters, of course, but they appealed to the lower middle class, who were desperate.
Roosevelt hesitated as to how to respond, and while he was waiting, the other shoe dropped. The Supreme Court, in Schechter Poultry Corporation vs. U.S., the "sick chicken" case, said that Congress had exceeded its authority, and had given the executive branch too much power when it created the NRA and allowed it to set codes and standards. The decision was written by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who said that even though the chicken had traveled in interstate commerce, it had "come to permanent rest within the state." This was a reach at best, but then, of course, Hughes was a Republican!
Roosevelt was outraged by the decision, and said afterwards at a press conference, "we have been relegated to the horse-and-buggy definition of interstate commerce.
Roosevelt thought he must act immediately, so he began the Second New Deal in 1935, which passed what Roosevelt called "must" legislation.
The most important of these was the Social Security Act of 1935. It was an old progressive concept from the early 1900’s, a program for the aged, indigent, disabled, etc. Other nations had such programs; the U.S. was the one of the last to adopt it because of the long-standing principle of the supremacy of self-reliance. It was the Great Depression that revived the idea of a social security program.
Social Security had three major provisions:
·A pension fund for retired persons over age 65. It was to be funded through payroll taxes. Initial payments averaged $22.00 per month; hardly sufficient, even then.
Roosevelt said that Social Security was not intended to guarantee a comfortable retirement; but was to supplement other sources, and protect the elder from the "hazards and vicissitudes of life." Only later did it become a primary source of income for the elderly. By 1998, the average income from Social Security was approximately $1,000.00 per month.
·A shared (with the states) unemployment insurance program financed by a payroll tax on employers.
·Social welfare programs for people who were disabled, blind, children, etc.
Although it sounded good, Social Security at first hindered recovery from the depression. It took money out of worker’s pockets, as it was paid for by a special tax. This, money went into a special Social Security trust fund. The end result was to take money out of circulation, and thereby cause deflation, one of the main causes of the depression. Also, by taking money away from workers, they had less money to spend, which also did not help recovery programs. Then too, it excluded those people who needed it most: farm workers, domestics, and people who were self-employed.
Roosevelt knew the limitations of the program, but told an aide that the issue was not economics, but politics. It was a way to get the program through Congress – and it worked.
Another important program was the Works Progress Administration (WPA): It paid people to work building bridges, monuments, airports, schools, etc. It provided part time work for students, and also had programs for the Arts and theater.
The last major law of the period was the Revenue Act of 1935, sometimes called the Wealth Tax Act, or the "Soak the Rich Tax." It raised tax rates on incomes above $50,000.00 and incomes over $5 million were taxed as high as 75 per cent. He even added an "excess profits" tax on corporate earnings above ten per cent. Said Roosevelt, "Our revenue laws have operated in many ways to the unfair advantage of the few, and they have done little to prevent an unjust concentration of wealth and economic power."
Needless to say, the rich almost had fits of apoplexy over the tax. Wealthy people resented their loss of status, and the increased power of government and labor. Some said that Roosevelt was a traitor to his own class, as he had been born wealthy. Herbert Hoover said the tax was "an attack on the whole philosophy of individual liberty.Among others outraged by the tax was J.P. Morgan, Jr. Visitors to his home were cautioned not to not to mention Roosevelt’s name, as it might raise his blood pressure. The idea was to "steal the thunder from the left" the weird programs proposed by long and others; but in actuality, the programs fell short of their promises.
·Revenue was not significantly increased, and also did not result in a redistribution of income. The whole idea was to "soak the rich," but it didn’t work that way.
·The Social Security payroll tax fell more heavily on lower incomes.
·Roosevelt had hoped to return care of indigents to the States; but the States, to the extent that they assumed the burden, did so by raising sales taxes, which also hurt lower incomes. Taxes such as this actually hurt economic recovery, as they reduced total spending power.
One historian says that Roosevelt’s program "rested on the assumption that a just society could be secured by imposing a welfare state on a capitalist foundation." Actually, radical as his plans may have been, it is easy to exaggerate Roosevelt’s contributions to recovery. Most of the measures passed, including work relief, Social Security, utility regulation, and a progressive income tax, were already in the works in Congress.
Continuing Hardships:New Deal programs helped ease the devastation of the depression, but it did not restore prosperity, nor did it end widespread suffering by Americans.
·As late as 1939, 9.5 million Americans (17% of the work force) were unemployed.
·Poverty led desperate people to take desperate measures, often resulting in tragedy. Petty theft soared, as well as begging and prostitution. The suicide rate also increased dramatically.
In one instance, a Pittsburgh father, unemployed, desperate to feed his children, stole a loaf of bread from a neighbor. He was arrested, and hanged himself in shame over what he had done.
·Many couples postponed marriage plans because of hard times. Over 800,000 marriages were delayed in the 1930’s. Often, people decided not to have children for fear that they could not support them, and the birth rate declined accordingly. Such children as were born often went hungry. In 1933, the Children’s Bureau reported that one child in five was not getting enough to eat. Over 900,000 children simply left home, and lived as street urchins.
·The divorce rate also declined, largely because people could not pay the fees. What did happen was that many men simply deserted their wives, and went to search for their fortunes elsewhere. Many were fathers; hence the term, "runaway Pappy."
The Dust Bowl: Many farmers and others, uprooted by the drought in the Midwest and South, packed their bags and headed for California. Many had lost everything before they left. They were often called "Okies," indicating they had come from Oklahoma, but they came from all over the cotton belt; including Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri. During the 1930’s and 40’s, over 800,000 people left those four states and headed west.
Not all of them were farmers; some were professionals, white-collar workers, retailers, and salesmen; many of whom had incomes tied to farming directly or indirectly.
Over half those who traveled to California ended up in the San Joaquin Valley, which is California’s bread basket. They soon discovered that it was no paradise. They had to compete with Hispanics and Asians for seasonal work as pickers. Often working for the large corporate farms. They lived in tents, crude cabins, etc, which were largely unsanitary.
Migrants in California met with a tremendous hostility; primarily because the native Californians were scared by the large influx. They were often discriminated against, and called demeaning names.
Test Essay Question from Grapes of Wrath: "Okie us’ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you’re scum. Don mean nothing in itself, it’s the way they say it.
Hostility and hard times caused over one third of the "Okies’ return home. Those who stayed tended to fall back on the old folkways of home that they brought with them rather than adapt to new lifestyles. Among the cultural habits they retained:
·Prejudice against blacks and other minorities.
·Potent evangelical Protestantism; primarily fundamentalist,
·A distinctive style of music, typically called "cowboy," "Hillbilly," or "country." It is still a major portion of California society.
Minorities and the New Deal: Minorities were especially hard hit by the Great Depression. No matter how progressive Roosevelt might otherwise appear to be, he refused to deal with racism and segregation, as he was fearful of alienating Southern Democrats in Congress. As a result, most New Deal programs were for Whites Only. Among them,
·the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) refused to guarantee mortgages on houses purchased by blacks in white communities.
·The Civilian Conservation Corps and Tennessee Valley Authority both practiced racial segregation.
·The Social Security Act excluded domestic and migrant workers.
·National Labor Relations Act excluded farm workers from protection.
·Relief payments to blacks and Chicanos in Houston Texas were 25% of the amount paid to whites.
·Farmers also took land out of production that was worked by sharecroppers and tenants, many of whom were minorities; this in order to qualify for the government programs, such as the AAA, where they were paid to reduce production. Over 200,000 black tenant farmers were displaced by the AAA.
Mexican Americans suffered even worse than Blacks. Many were unable to prove their citizenship, and were accordingly denied access to federal relief programs. Local governments sent them back to Mexico with a passion, even though many of them had children born in the U.S., which made the children American citizens.
Roosevelt’s Second Term
Roosevelt had attracted enemies along the way, but was so popular that the Republicans had to stay away from the "hate-Roosevelt" crowd. They nominated Alfred M. Landon, a former member of the Bull Moose Party, who had opposed the KKK and was a largely progressive Republican.
For the 1936 election, Roosevelt put together a coalition of ethnic groups that would affect national politics far into the future. He made strong gains among those who benefited from Farm Programs in the West, and also received support from ethnic groups who had benefited from New Deal welfare programs. Middle class voters liked him, because they felt his programs had helped them save their property. Intellectuals liked new ideas in government. The labor movement also was revived, and supported him.
The biggest change was that a large number of politically active blacks moved from Republican to Democrat.Said one journalist to a group of Black Republicans, "My friends, go home and turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall. That debt has been paid in full."
On Election Day, Roosevelt carried 46 of the 48 states, he lost only Maine and Vermont. It was the closest thing to a unanimous electoral vote since James Monroe in 1820. He also carried a tremendous Democratic majority with him to Congress: 77 – 19 in the Senate; and 328 - 107 in the House.
Roosevelt considered his re-election to be a mandate for still more radical reforms. Said he in his inaugural address, "I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." He felt that with his overwhelming majority in Congress, he had a green light to proceed.
He ran into problems, however, with the Supreme Court. By the end of its 1936 term, the Court had struck down seven of the nine major cases it reviewed dealing with New Deal programs. Among them were the AAA and the NRA. In 1936, the Court said neither the States nor the Federal Government had the power to fix minimum wages. There were suits against the Social Security Act and the Labor Relation Acts pending. An analysis of voting patterns on the Court indicated that these programs might be in for real difficulty.
It was because of the danger of losing his programs that Roosevelt and his attorney general cooked up the scheme to enlarge the Supreme Court to fifteen seats (it presently has nine, as it did then.) Opponents to the plan quickly called it the "Court Packing Plan.
The Constitution gives Congress the right to determine the number of seats on the Court; and it has varied over time; sometimes six, seven, nine or ten). Since Roosevelt had a large majority in Congress, the plan should work easily enough.
Roosevelt also wanted to create up to 50 new Federal Judges, as well as six new Supreme Court Justices, and limit the power of those who had served over ten years, or were over aged 70. Since he could appoint judges who were favorable to his own philosophy, he could influence judicial interpretation for years to come.The Court packing plan backfired quickly. It seemed to imply that older judges were senile; which was an offense to elder members of Congress and the Court, especially Louis Brandeis, who at this point was 80 years old. (He was also the most liberal of the Justices, who typically voted for Roosevelt’s plans.) There was also the fear that it would create a precedent whereby a President could modify Court membership for any purpose he saw fit, a dangerous proposition at best. It also flew in the face of the veneration Americans had held for the Courts for many years.
Among the other concerns were those of Southern senators who were afraid that more liberal justices on the court might spell the end of white supremacy. For that reason, the Republicans simply sat back, and let the Democrats fight this one out among themselves.
In the end, Congress never voted on the plan.
Actually, a change on the Court mooted the plan. Justice Owen Roberts, who had often voted with the four conservative justices, known as the "four horsemen," switched sides and voted with the four liberals in a case which reversed previous decisions, and upheld a minimum wage law for Washington State, and the Social Security Act. No explanation has been given for his change of vote; but it has since been called the "switch in time that saved nine."
Roosevelt claimed he had lost the battle but won the war, as the Court had reversed itself, and several retirements allowed him to appoint justices favorable to his own position. But his prestige and that of his party had been hurt; and large numbers of Democrats deserted him; plus he gave lots of fuel to the opposition. This cost him a great deal of the momentum he had gained in the 1936 election.
A New Direction for Labor: Labor got its impetus from New Deal legislation. The NIRA had required that every industry code have a statement of worker’s right to organize. Union organizers quickly interpreted this to mean, "the President wants you to join a Union."
Among the first to take advantage of this was John L. Lewis, of the United Mine Workers. He rebuilt the union, which had suffered tremendously in the depression, from 150,000 members to over 500,000. Lewis, and the leaders of some other Industrial unions formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1934.
The AFL had been strictly craft unions, and later expelled CIO unions from its membership. The resulting rivalry actually caused both groups to work harder at organization, and led to a large growth in the Union movement.
The first industry workers organized by the CIO was the United Auto Workers, which conducted a "sit in" strike. Although Roosevelt was not happy with the strike, he refused to send in troops to break it up. Later, the company gave in, and signed a contract with the Union. Later, the CIO organized the rubber, oil, and electronics industries, as well as a portion of the textile industry.
Roosevelt himself came late to the support of Unions, and at times did not support their programs. On one occasion, he became so irritated at the dispute between Lewis and the Republican Steel Company that he pronounced "a plague on both your houses." Lewis, who had been trying to organize steel workers for over a year, was offended, and said, "It ill behooves one who has supped at labor’s table and who has been sheltered in labor’s house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in a deadly embrace." Lewis never forgave Roosevelt, and in 1940 he supported the Republican candidate for President.Despite Roosevelt’s irritation of Lewis, labor and workers became closely aligned with the Democratic Party, and have remained so.
Economic Slump: Although the economy improved on its own in 1935, 1936, a tremendous amount of government spending had been responsible for the economic prosperity of 1937. Congress was paying out relief and public works payments, and also had voted for Veterans bonuses. Roosevelt became worried about inflation and a fiscal deficit; and as a result, ordered cuts in spending. At the same time, by collecting Social Security taxes, the government was reducing people’s disposable income.
Private spending, which would typically boost the economy, did not appear; businessmen were still too scared to spend. This lack of government spending and private spending also caused another slump in the economy, actually sharper than that of 1929. The Dow Jones Stock average declined 40% between August and October, 1937. By the end of the year, 2 million people were out of work.
Rival groups within the government debated the best solution. Some argued that the key was more government spending, typical of the view held by John Maynard Keynes. Others argued that it was fear of government spending, which would create inflation and a deficit, which would drive up interest rates that kept businesses from investing.(Business would be competing with government for available money to borrow, which drives up interest rates).
Roosevelt tried to ride out the storm, but when no recovery was evident in 1938, he sided with the Government spending crowd. It did reverse some of the trend, but because he had waited, and because it was not massive and sustained government spending, full recovery was not achieved. In fact, employment did not reach pre-1929 levels until World War II.
The fight over court packing; labor strikes, and the recession of 1937 hurt Roosevelt’s prestige. Only a few more plans were enacted by Congress to fight the economic slump.
The Legacy of the New Deal: Opposition to New Deal programs developed within Roosevelt’s own party when its focus changed from recovery to reform, particularly in the party’s Southern wing. Changes at the Democratic Convention, which had previously given the Southern states virtual veto power over platforms, were modified. Several Southern delegates walked out of the 1936 convention, among them "Cotton Ed" Smith, of South Carolina. Smith said he would not support any party that "views the Negro as a political and social equal."
In 1938, Roosevelt came up with a plan to reshape the Democratic Party in the image of the New Deal. It was almost as ambitious as his court-packing plan. He planned to intervene in primaries as the party leader, and see that his own supporters were nominated. This backfired also, and again his prestige was damaged. Opponents spoke of his plans to "purge" the party, a word that evoked images of Hitler and Stalin, who had purged their own parties by murdering those who opposed them.
In the 1938 mid-term elections, the Democrats saw their majority in both houses substantially reduced, but not entirely eliminated. Roosevelt headed a party that was troubled and divided. In his 1939 State of the Union message, he proposed no new reform programs, but spoke of "preserving" reforms already made. He sadly had reached a standoff with conservatives, and his domestic initiatives basically came to an end, "not with a bang, but a whimper."
Changes brought about by the New Deal: One of the major changes brought about by the new deal was that the power of the national government was greatly enlarged over what it had previously been. Among the changes:
·Government had assumed responsibility for insuring the economic and social stability of the country.
·Minimum standards for labor and public welfare had been established.
·Middle class Americans had been helped to hold on to their homes, their savings, and their farms.
·Social security, unemployment compensation, and deposit insurance had been adopted as safeguards against a future depression.
Roosevelt had attempted to steer a middle course between the "extremes of laissez-faire and socialism." He had attempted to develop a managed economy in the first New Deal, but later abandoned that effort, and tried government spending to lift the economy out of the depression. The latter seemed to be the best approach.
Artistic expression abandoned the alienation of the 1920’s for a more pragmatic approach in the 30’s; gone was the concept of art for the sake of art. Art and Music began to reflect a social commitment.
Some writers saw a commitment to social reform as a commitment to revolution. Several began moving towards the communist party as a way of bringing about social reform. In 1932, 53 artists and intellectuals signed a letter supporting the communist candidate for president; but they didn’t remain in that camp for long; it threatened to stifle their independence.
Several writers produced literature that reflected social significance. Among them:
·John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath: treated workers as genuine people rather than as stereotypes.
·Richard Wright, a black novelist from Natchez, Mississippi. He lived for a while in Chicago, and for ten years was a member of the communist party. His masterpiece was Native Son, in which he expressed the bitterness of black life under Jim Crow laws.
America experienced a "cultural revolution," according to Fortune Magazine. Americans realized that they had their own culture that was distinctly American, like it or not. Once they realized it was there, they began to track it down, particularly that least influenced by European tradition.
Among the artists of the time were Grant Wood, (American Gothic) and Thomas Hart Benton.
The human tragedy of the Great Depression gave rise to a new form of expression called the "social documentary. Much of it described the lives of sharecroppers, workers, Blacks. A number of talented social reporters and photographers worked on projects. Among them:
·Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke White produced You Have Seen their Faces (1937)
·James Agee and Walker Evans: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Described tenant life in Alabama.
Popular Culture During the Depression: Popular culture did not emphasize the hardship of the depression, but rather offered an escape from its reality.
Radio was the major form of diversion. Over 10 million families owned a radio in the 1930’s. Some programs were soap operas directed at housewives; others were afternoon programs directed towards women: In the evening after supper, entire families gathered around the radio to listen to programs such as Amos ‘n’ Andy; Burns and Allen, Superman, The Lone Ranger, and The Green Hornet.
Movies became popular, particularly with the introduction of "talkies." Over 60 per cent of the population saw movies at least once a week. Films of the 30’s rarely dealt with hard times, or with racial and ethnic tensions. The exception was the movie, The Grapes of Wrath. Most movies were intended purely for entertainment. Among them were "shoot ‘em up" gangster films, Walt Disney cartoon features, horror films, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Werewolf, and The Mummy.
Gangster movies were also popular: Little Caesar, Public Enemy Number One, and Scarface. Among the famous actors was Edward G. Robinson, ("this is biggie talkin’ see?") Also James Cagney.
Musicals also became popular, such as The Gold Diggers, and Dames.
The most popular escape was a comedy, typically performed by a group of former vaudeville entertainers known as the Marx Brothers. One Hollywood producer said that they were intended to "laugh the big bad wolf of the depression out of the public mind." There were five Jewish brothers originally, but only three performed in movies; Groucho, Harpo, and Cheeko. Harpo got his nickname because he was a very accomplished harpist. In almost every movie he played a harp solo. Groucho always had a cigar as a prop, and heavy eyebrows. The jokes were one-liners, very similar to vaudeville. Example: "When I was in Africa, I shot an elephant in my pajamas; how the elephant got in my pajamas, I’ll never know. We tried to remove the tusks, but they were so firmly embedded, they couldn’t be removed. Of course in Alabama, you have Tuscaloosa."
Among their more famous movies: Cocoanuts; Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, and A Night in Casablanca.
In 1939, Gone with the Wind was produced in Technicolor, a novelty at the time. It starred Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. It was 220 minutes in length; the longest movie of the time; and also the most popular.
Although the movie was famous because it was a romantic depiction of the old South, it’s most famous line was uttered by Clark Gable, at a time when profanity in movies was unheard of: "Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn."