Topics in the News
America and the Crisis of the Depression
Hoover's "Rugged Individualism."
Herbert Hoover was elected president in the economically flush times of the late 1920s. During the 1920s the gross national product of the United States rose an astonishing 25 percent. Millions of Americans purchased refrigerators, washing machines, radios, and cars for the first time. In this economic boom many Americans attributed the nation's success to the ideology of "business Republicanism." They believed that the nation would flourish in proportion to the support that large and small businesses received from government. They supported policies that made mills, mines, banks, factories, and farms more profitable: a protective tariff, right-to-work (that is, antiunion) laws, the gold standard, and a government that purposively restrained itself from intervention in capitalist markets. From 1921 onward, during nearly a decade of dynamic and expansive growth, Americans elected business Republican presidents. Their view was summarized by Republican president Calvin Coolidge in 1924: "The chief business of America is business." Herbert Hoover, coined the term rugged individualism during his 1928 presidential campaign: We were challenged with a peace-time choice between the American system of rugged individualism and a European philosophy of diametrically opposed doctrines—-doctrines of paternalism and state socialism," he said in a campaign speech...
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Democracy and the New Deal
In the 1932 presidential election Hoover was easily defeated by the Democratic governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt's political program called for a vastly expanded role for the federal government. Under this "New Deal" a broad array of modern liberal reforms—from government regulation of industries to social security for the elderly, young, and handicapped—were implemented. The ideas of these and other like-minded reforms was not wholly new to the American political landscape. The New Deal was the politics of progressivism resurgent. From 1900 until 1917 political progressivism had galvanized American politics. Progressivism had its heyday in 1912, when, under the banner of Franklin Roosevelt's distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party had placed second in the presidential election—behind Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats but ahead of incumbent president William Howard Taft and the Republicans. The Progressive Party platform had called for "a system of social insurance" to be used "against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age." It had also called for "a strong National regulation of inter-State State corporations," for the prohibition of child labor, for progressive taxation, and for greater protection for unions. These and many other goals of the progressives were instantiated in the legislative framework...
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The Farm Crisis
Farm Problems before the Crash.
Economic depression had struck American farmers earlier than any other element in American society. Indeed, by the early 1920s American farmers were already enduring a severe economic crisis. During World War I the American economy, including farming, had gone into an all-out sprint of productivity. When the war ended, however, the European markets in which American food had been sold were closed off by tariff restrictions. Newly and traditionally cultivated lands in the United States continued to be farmed with evermore-efficient machinery and higher-yielding fertilizers. The result was a vast surplus of agricultural goods and livestock. In the competitive domestic marketplace the purchasing power of Americans could consume only so much cotton, corn, wheat, beef, and pork. As farmers competed to undersell their competitors, who were often their neighbors, prices fell through the floor.
The Onset of the Depression.
As the Depression of the 1930s gripped the nation, the farmers' plight worsened. In 1920 wheat sold for $2.94 a bushel in Chicago. In 1929 it commanded only $1.00, and by 1932 it sold for a scant $.30. The price of cotton, a staple crop across much of the South, fell from $.37 a pound in 1920 to an unprofitable $.065 by 1932. During the same period prime beef fell from $14.95 per hundredweight...
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The Financial and Banking Crisis
The Banking Crisis.
In the banking and fiscal crisis of the Great Depression, the heady days of the 1920s were well-nigh forgotten. More than five thousand banks closed in the three years before President Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By then about nine million people had lost their savings and it was clear that some action was necessary. In the "interregnum," Hoover's final days as a "lame-duck" president between Roosevelt's election in November 1932 and his inauguration the following March, state after state declared banking "holidays," briefly closing local banks in efforts to prevent nervous depositors from creating bank failures by rushing to withdraw their savings from banks believed to be financially unstable. The day after his inauguration, President Roosevelt called Congress into special session and announced a four-day nationwide banking holiday. While the banks were closed, the president introduced the Emergency Banking Act, which Congress passed the same day. During this bank closure many people ran short of cash. In an era before credit cards, people without hard currency were unable to purchase groceries or attend public events. Shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York were all but empty. At Madison Square Garden people "paid" admission to boxing matches with spark plugs, jigsaw puzzles, and other items deposited with the attendants at the door. Yet these short-term...
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Help for the Common Man
Founded on 31 March 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of President Roosevelt's first New Deal programs. During its nine-year existence the CCC employed more than 2.5 million young men in temporary camps administered by the U.S. Army. In 1935, at the high point of its activity, the CCC employed half a million men in twenty-five hundred camps nationwide. For about a dollar a day the young members of "Roosevelt's Tree Army" restored historic sites, built park facilities, cleaned reservoirs, fought forest fires, and planted more than two billion trees. The CCC also taught thirty-five thousand illiterate young men to read. Though considered one of the most successful programs created during Roosevelt's first hundred days in office, the CCC was not without its flaws. Women were excluded from its membership rolls; and, though more than two hundred thousand African Americans did serve in the CCC, the discriminatory policies of its director, Robert Fechner, meant that sometimes a young African American man could join only after another quit.
FERA and the CWA.
Signed into law in May 1933, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided cash grants to states for distribution to the unemployed. Under the able administration of Harry Hopkins, FERA distributed nearly $500 million in short order. Recognizing,...
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The first New Deal efforts to respond to corporate bankruptcies and the concomitant unemployment came in the form of an omnibus legislative bill. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was passed by Congress in mid June 1933. An extremely complex bill, the NIRA was intended to stop the crippling deflation that was ruining American industries. The NIRA suspended antitrust laws and allowed industries to collude in setting prices. The NIRA created the Public Works Administration (PWA), and in its now-famous section 7(a) allowed workers to organize into unions with the assurance that they could not be "coerced, harassed, or intimidated" by their employers. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was established under the NIRA to set codes for industrial compliance. Under the capable leadership of Hugh S.Johnson, the NRA instituted codes calling for minimum wages, maximum hours, and an end to child labor. Industries that complied with NRA codes were allowed to display a "Blue Eagle." Almost overnight the Blue Eagle and the accompanying slogan "We Do Our Part" were being displayed in factories and stores nationwide. In Philadelphia the owner of a new National Football League franchise even named his team the Eagles. In May 1935, however, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional. Congress extracted the labor provision of the NIRA, which, passed as the Wagner...
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Industry and Labor
Labor Organization and Unrest.
Industrial wage earners became increasingly militant during the 1930s. Both unions and capitalists frequently resorted to violence. Republic Steel was said to have purchased more tear gas than any other institution, and a Senate report noted that 282 companies had spent almost $10 million for ammunition, spies, and replacement workers from 1933 to 1937. Ten thousand garment workers, including many women, went on strike in New York in 1935. The previous year thousands of workers walked out of textile mills from Massachusetts to Georgia (and elsewhere) in the largest strike in the nation's history to that time. That same year, in Minneapolis, four men died as a result of violent struggles between striking truck drivers and deputized businessmen. Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson, who had been elected on the Farmer-Labor ticket in 1932, sympathized with the strikers, who were actively supported by the Farmers' Holiday Association, a group allied to the Farmer-Labor Party, but he finally declared martial law to end the violence. By the mid 1930s Olson was considered the most radical governor in the nation, claiming openly "You might say I'm radical as hell!"
The San Francisco Longshoremen's Strike.
In summer 1934 tensions between San Francisco longshoremen and their employers spilled over into the entire city....
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New Deal Opponents
Alternatives on the Left and Right.
American politics consists of the interplay of individuals, interest groups, and their contending worldviews. The politics of the 1930s were extraordinarily dynamic. As the economy tumbled ever more swiftly downhill in the early 1930s, Americans contemplated the social, economic, and political conditions that had—to a greater or lesser extent— ruled the United States since its founding. Some individuals began to question the free-market capitalism and constitutional republicanism (representative democracy) that had been foundational tenets of American history. Though the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States rose from $56 billion in 1933 to $72 billion in 1935, unemployment remained at more than 10 million workers. The optimism of Roosevelt's first hundred days was increasingly replaced by frustration and anger. Voices of protest were heard from the political Right and Left.
The greatest challenge to Roosevelt and the New Deal in the mid 1930s proved to be Sen. Huey P. Long of Louisiana, whose "Share-Our-Wealth" clubs, organized in early 1934, spread rapidly across the country. Millions of Americans supported Long's proposals. Calling for redistributing the nation's wealth through heavy taxation of the rich, Long's plan guaranteed every American an annual...
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The New Deal Stalls
Reassured by his landslide reelection in 1936, Roosevelt overextended his political power in the following year. Believing that his popularity was a mandate to drive forward with his reformist policies, he overreached his grasp and suffered politically for doing so. The greatest blunder Roosevelt made after 1936 was in trying to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with additional justices. Since Marbury v. Madison established the principle of judicial review in 1803, the Supreme Court's job has been to decide on the constitutionality of laws. By declaring a law to be unconstitutional, it checks and balances the powers of the legislative and executive branches. Its methods of interpretation are open to question, however, and by the mid 1930s Roosevelt had become increasingly irritated as the highest court in the nation ruled against one New Deal act after another. By 1936 the Supreme Court had found both the AAA and NRA unconstitutional, and many New Deal supporters believed that the court would soon strike down other reformist legislation. Furious with the conservatism of the Supreme Court and buoyed by the 1936 election results, Roosevelt made plans to change the court's composition. In February 1937, hiding behind the pretense that he wanted to free aging justices from a mountainous backlog of cases, Roosevelt made proposals that would have increased the number of...
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Politics: The 1930 Elections
Congressional Election Issues.
The stock-market crash of October 1929 set the tone for the congressional elections of 1930. With more than five million people unemployed, fear and uncertainty gripped large portions of the electorate. Democrats campaigned primarily on the issue of the economy, accusing the Republican president and the Republican-controlled Congress of failing to deal with the yearlong economic downturn. Prohibition was a secondary, but important, issue in the states. Alignment for or against Prohibition was nonpartisan, some Democrats and some Republicans falling on either side of the issue, The New York Times estimated that prior to the 1930 elections 344 members of the House of Representatives supported Prohibition, but after the elections only 298 congressmen-elect supported it.
The elections resulted in a severe setback for the Republican Party, which barely maintained its majorities in both houses of Congress. Republican Senate seats fell from 56 to 48, and the number of Republicans in the House of Representatives dropped from 267 to 214. In the Senate, when the 47 Democrats and the 1 Farmer-Laborite voted together, it was necessary for Vice President Charles Curtis to cast the tie-breaking vote. When President Hoover was elected in 1928 it had looked as though he would be working with a...
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Politics: The 1932 Republican Nomination Race
An Unpopular President.
By the time the Republican National Convention opened in Chicago on 14 June 1932, the U.S. economy was near collapse. Almost one in four Americans was out of work, and many who still had jobs were suffering the hardships created by reduced hours and lower pay. Because of President Herbert Hoover's unpopularity, brief efforts were made to draft an alternative Republican candidate. Progressive senators Hiram Johnson of California and William E. Borah of Idaho were mentioned, but both declined to be considered. There was also a short-lived effort to place Calvin Coolidge's name into nomination, but the former president refused to begin an insurgent movement within his own party. Only Joseph France, a conservative former senator from Maryland, challenged Hoover. Though France won a few inconsequential primaries, he was never a serious contender, and in the end Hoover won renomination easily. In a colorful moment at the Republican National Convention, France was dragged from the convention hall by police as he tried to ascend the podium to give an unscheduled speech. The alleged reason for his detainment was his failure to produce proper credentials. Convention organizers seemed to be trying to avoid any hint of dissent from the party's renomination of the president.
The Republican Platform.
The Republican National...
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Politics: The 1932 Democratic Nomination Race
Roosevelt the Frontrunner.
Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, but with victory for the Democrats almost a certainty, stakes were high, and an internecine primary battle broke out in the Democratic ranks. Challenging Roosevelt were a series of "favorite son" candidates, including Gov. George White of Ohio, Gov. William "Alfalfa Bill" Murray of Oklahoma (with his "Bread, Butter, Bacon, and Beans" campaign), Sen. James H. Lewis of Illinois, Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas, and former senator James A. Reed of Missouri. Of these challengers Garner, promoted by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, had the most convention delegates lined up behind him. Roosevelt faced his greatest challenge, however, from the party's 1928 presidential nominee, Alfred E. "AT Smith of New York. Smith, supported by party conservatives, had almost two hundred delegate votes when the Democrats opened their convention in Chicago on 27 June. Because the Democratic Party had a rule requiring a candidate to have two-thirds of the delegate vote to win the nomination, Roosevelt, though he held a majority of delegate votes (with 682 votes cast for him early on the morning of 1 July), was 89 votes short of the nomination after three ballots. At this point Garner had 101 delegate votes. To break the impasse Roosevelt's campaign...
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Politics: The 1932 Elections
Roosevelt Wins Big.
On election day Roosevelt carried forty-two states. He received a total of 22,809,638 votes (57.4 percent of the popular vote) to Hoover's 15,758,901 (39.7 percent) and won 472 electoral votes to only 59 for Hoover. The Democrats also trounced the Republicans in congressional races. Democrats won 310 seats in the House while Republicans won only 117. The Democrats took control of the Senate, where they outnumbered the Republicans 60-35. The small Farmer-Labor Party captured 5 House seats and 1 Senate seat. The Republicans had been handed the worst electoral defeat in their history, as the Democrats won an impressive mandate from the American people.
Frank Freidel, "Election of 1932," in History of American Presidential Elections 1789-1968, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., volume 3 (New York: Chelsea House/McGraw-Hill, 1971), pp. 2707-2805;
William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963).
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Politics: The 1934 Elections
Democrats Increase Their Majority.
As off-year elections go, 1934 was a splendid year for the Democrats. The general trend in American history is that the party that wins the presidency loses ground in the following congressional election. Not so in 1934. The majority of voters were impressed with the flurry of activity in Washington during the opening years of the Roosevelt administration. Recalling the failures of the Republicans, voters bucked historical trends and increased the already sizable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Democrats ran on their legislative successes and on the popularity of the president, promising future successes if returned to office.
Republicans Attack the New Deal.
Conversely, Republican National Chairman Henry P. Fletcher of Pennsylvania engaged his party in an all-out attack on the New Deal. His "Declaration of Policy" warned voters of "domination of an all-powerful central government," If the New Deal policies of the Democrats were continued, he wrote, there would be "limitless inflation." He charged
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Politics: The 1936 Republican Nomination Race
Drawing Ideological Battle Lines.
The presidential election of 1936 was one of the most ideologically charged in American history. The policy differences between Democrats and Republicans expressed in that year would continue in the same general outline for the rest of the twentieth century. Traditionally the party of states' rights, the Democratic Party became the party of the federally constructed welfare state. Conversely, Republicans abandoned their defense of federal power, a position they had held since the Civil War and Reconstruction, and embraced local and states' rights.
The Republican Candidate Search.
The impressive gains of the Democrats in the 1932 and 1934 elections made it difficult for the Republicans to find a viable candidate. Frank Lowden, a former governor of Illinois, was promoted by those who wished to see a moderately liberal probusiness candidate. Lowden, a contestant for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, was in his seventies and declined to run. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, with aspirations focused on the 1940 presidential election, also refused. Sen. William E. Borah of Idaho was a possibility early on, but he was opposed by party conservatives, and his chances dwindled. Frank Knox, publisher of the Chicago Daily News, was also a contender for the nomination, but it was the middle-of...
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Politics: The 1936 Democratic Nomination Race
Democratic National Convention.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was unopposed for the Democratic presidential nomination. The platform, adopted after the Democratic National Convention opened in Philadelphia on 22 June, echoed the Declaration of Independence, stating:
We hold this truth to be self-evident—that government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are:
- (1) Protection of the family and the home;
- (2) Establishment of a democracy of opportunity for all the people;
- (3) Aid to those overtaken by disaster.
The president and platform also roundly criticized big business and finance capital.
"Rendezvous with Destiny."
The president arrived at the Democratic National Convention to accept his renomination on 27 June and delivered one of his most frequently quoted speeches, attacking "economic royalists" who were seeking to impose a "new industrial dictatorship." The crowd of one hundred thousand people cheered uproariously as the president said,
Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice...
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Politics: The 1936 Elections
Politics: The 1938 Elections
The congressional elections of 1938 were a major setback for the Democrats. After five years of New Deal policies the Depression had not ended. In late 1937 a severe recession had begun, and by fall 1938 the country had not yet recovered. Increasing numbers of Americans were becoming disenchanted with the New Deal policies. Roosevelt made matters worse for his party in two ways. First, his court-packing scheme struck many Americans as an inappropriate use of executive power. Second, flushed with the gigantic vote of confidence he had received in the 1936 election, Roosevelt believed that by politicking in various states he could help to elect congressmen who would support his agenda and convince voters to withhold support from congressmen he wanted out of office. He miscalculated. In his effort to "purge" the Democratic Party of its most conservative members he began the 1938 campaign season with a train tour through various parts of the country. In New York he opposed Congressman John J. O'Connor; in Georgia he appealed to voters to oust Sen. Walter George; in South Carolina he blasted Sen. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith; in Maryland he called for the defeat of Sen. Millard Tydings; and in Iowa he spoke out against Sen. Guy Gillett. He failed. All but O'Connor won reelection.
Republicans Attack the New Deal.
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Toward War: U.S. Foreign Policy and Isolationism
American Foreign Policy in the 1930s.
In the opening years of what would be a decade of worldwide depression, President Herbert Hoover made a series of proposals to quiet rising international tensions. In 1930 his administration extended the naval-limitations agreements of the early 1920s. In 1931 he proposed a moratorium on international debt, while refusing to cancel those lingering World War I debts owed to the United States by the European powers. Further, Hoover pressed for an international agreement on arms limitation, but the World Disarmament Conference, held in Switzerland in 1932, failed to achieve its goals. International economic and military pressures intensified. Fueled by the global depression, Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, State Socialism in the Soviet Union, and militarism in Japan were ascendant.
Roosevelt and Foreign Policy in the 1930s.
Roosevelt's initial foreign policy was mixed. His administration took an isolationist stance at the World Economic Conference in June 1933, when it refused to cooperate in the effort to stabilize world currencies. In 1934, however, he took an internationalist stance in the U.S.-negotiated Reciprocal Trade Agreements on tariff reductions. His vacillating policies reflected his political priorities: at the beginning of his administration domestic issues were more important than...
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Hoover, Herbert 1874-1964
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (1929-1933)
The thirty-first president of the United States, Herbert Hoover was chief executive at the beginning of the worst economic depression in American history. His was a serious, incorruptible, and independent intellect. He lacked the personal charm and charisma of other politicians, but there was probably little that any sitting president could have done to win the popularity contest at the polls in 1932, and he lost the election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Born in Iowa on 10 August 1874, Herbert Clark Hoover was orphaned as a child. A Quaker known from his childhood as "Bert" to his friends, he began a career as a mining engineer soon after graduating from Stanford University in 1895. Within twenty years he had used his engineering knowledge and business acumen to make a fortune as an independent mining consultant.
In 1914 Hoover administered the American Relief Committee, which...
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Hull, Cordell 1871-1955
SECRETARY OF STATE (1933-1944)
A Popular Democrat.
Cordell Hull was the longest-serving secretary of state in American history. For much of that time he was one of the most popular Democrats in the nation, and until President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to seek an unprecedented third term, Hull was considered the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1940.
Born in Tennessee, Hull graduated from Cumberland University Law School in 1891 and was elected to the Tennessee legislature two years later. After serving in the Spanish-American War and working as a lawyer, he was appointed a Tennessee circuit court judge in 1903. In 1907 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where as a progressive Democrat he was instrumental in sponsoring several important tax laws, including the Federal Income Tax Act of 1913. During the 1920s he actively promoted reciprocal trade agreements as a means to enhance U.S. foreign trade. In 1930 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until he became Roosevelt's secretary of state in March 1933. Under Hull's leadership the State Department successfully negotiated reciprocal trade agreements with Britain, France, and many Latin American countries. Hull spearheaded the administration's "Good Neighbor Policy" with Central...
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Guardia, Fiorello La 1882-1947
MAYOR OF NEW YORK (1934-1945)
A Popular Politician.
Fiorello La Guardia was a leading progressive in New York politics from the 1920s until his death in 1947. During the 1930s his flamboyant political style and his hardworking nature made him one of the most popular political figures in the United States.
La Guardia was born in New York City to an Italian father and Jewish mother. Because his father was in the U.S. Army, La Guardia spent much of his youth living on army posts in Arizona, South Dakota, and other western states. La Guardia also spent time with his mother's family in Trieste, then part of Austria. From 1901 to 1906 La Guardia, who knew six European languages in addition to English, worked at American consulates in Hungary and Austria. He entered New York University Law School in 1906, and while he was a student there he worked part-time as an interpreter on Ellis Island and with labor and immigrant groups on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After...
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Landon, Alfred M. "Alf" 1887-1987
GOVERNOR OF KANSAS (1933-1937)
REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (1936)
A middle-of-the-road Republican, Alf Landon took on a popular president in an election that gave the American people their first chance to express their opinion of the major expansion of the federal government that had taken place in the last four years. Unlike many fellow Republicans, Landon supported some New Deal programs and offered his own solutions for the nation's economic woes, but the voters in the 1936 presidential election overwhelmingly preferred President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his "Alphabet Soup of Acts and Agencies" and handed him a landslide victory over Landon.
Born in Pennsylvania, Alfred Mossman Landon grew up in Marietta, Ohio. In 1904 his family moved to Independence, Kansas, and for the next four years Landon studied law at the University of Kansas. Though admitted to the bar in 1908, Landon chose to enter the business world. After a brief time as a banker he worked as an oil driller and in...
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Long, Huey P. 1893-1935
GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA (1928-1931)
U.S. SENATOR (1932-1935)
During the first two years of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, Sen. Huey P. Long, nicknamed 4
Huey Pierce Long Jr. was born and grew up on his family's farm in northern Louisiana. He attended the University of Oklahoma School of Law for a semester and passed the Louisiana bar examination in 1915 after further study at the Tulane University Law School. In 1918 Long was elected to the state railroad commission, which became the public-service commission in 1921. Long became its chairman in 1924, the year in which he narrowly lost his first bid for the governorship. He ran again in 1928, campaigning with a banner that read "EVERY MAN A KING, BUT NO ONE WEARS A CROWN" and won. He achieved nearly absolute power as governor and was often called the "dictator of Louisiana." Once, when an opponent tried to show him that he was violating the state constitution, Long brushed the document aside and said, "I'm the Constitution around here now." While he built roads, bridges, and government buildings and improved the state's schools, there was an undercurrent of corruption in his methods. In 1929 he was impeached, but not convicted, on charges of bribery and misconduct. Though elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930,...
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Perkins, Frances 1882-1965
SECRETARY OF LABOR (1933-1945)
First Woman Cabinet Member.
Frances Perkins was the first American woman appointed to a cabinet post. As secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was a leading force in New Deal labor policy.
Born in Boston, Frances Perkins was a vigorous advocate for social justice. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1902, she became a teacher. In 1904, when she took a job at a school in Lake Forest, Illinois, she began volunteer work in Chicago settlement houses, learning firsthand the problems of the poor. In 1907 she moved to Philadelphia, where she became general secretary of the Research and Protective Association. After moving to New York in 1909 and earning an A.M. in economics and sociology at Columbia University in 1910, she became secretary of the New York Consumers' League (1910-1912). She worked to address the problems of working conditions and lobbied the state legislature for industrial reform. While she was secretary...
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Roosevelt, Eleanor 1884-1962
FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES (1933-1945)
Image Pop-UpEleanor Roosevelt signing autographs.
Though not an elected or appointed governmental official, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a towering figure in the politics of her day. In her travels, lectures, and writing, she promoted a liberal political agenda. Her discussions with her husband and her reports to him on what she had seen and heard on her travels were important in determining Roosevelt's political strategies. James Farley, an important adviser and campaign manager to Roosevelt, called her "the most practical woman I've ever met in politics."
A distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born into a patrician family whose history stretched back to the colonial era, but her early life was not an easy one. Both of her parents died when she was a young girl. In 1899 she was sent to London, England, to study at a private boarding school for three years. As she was later to recount, she received intellectual and emotional support from the headmistress at the school. In 1905 she and...
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Roosevelt, Franklin Delano 1882-1945
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (1933-1945)
One of the most influential politicians in the history of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (often referred to by his initials, FDR) was elected to an unprecedented four terms as president. His administrations created the modern bureaucratic welfare state. He set the political tone for the 1930s in his acceptance speech at the 1932 Democratic National Convention. Breaking with the tradition of accepting the nomination in a formal ceremony after the end of the convention, Roosevelt had flown to Chicago to address the delegates in person. On 2 July 1932 he declared, "You have nominated me and I know it, and I am here to thank you for the honor. Let it … be symbolic that in so doing I broke tradition. Let it be from now on the task of our Party to break foolish traditions." Toward the end of his stirring address he spoke the phrase that was to symbolize his presidency: "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." This...
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Wagner, Robert F. 1877-1953
U.S. SENATOR (1926-1949)
A Voice for the Common Man.
Robert Wagner, Democratic senator from New York, was one of the major architects of the modern American welfare state. A voice in the Senate for working people, the poor, and minorities, Wagner was a political activist who picked his political fights with care and often won. Wagner often relied on social scientists to conceive the initiatives he sponsored.
Born in Germany, Wagner immigrated to New York City with his family at the age of eight. He attended City College of New York, earned a law degree, and then worked his way up the political ladder by forging an urban-progressive coalition. As a New York State assemblyman (1904-1909) and a New York State senator (1910-1918) he became a vocal advocate of laws to protect working people. Elected a justice on the New York State Supreme Court in 1918, he continued to champion the rights of labor.
A New Deal Senator.
Wagner's concern for the wellbeing of working people continued after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1926. In 1931 he sponsored a $2 billion public-works program, which President Herbert Hoover signed into law as the Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Act of 1932. After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, Wagner...
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People in the News
On 10 December 1931 Jane Addams and Nicholas Murray Butler were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams, a social worker, was the founder of Hull House in Chicago and the first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Butler was president of Columbia University and a strong supporter of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928.
In December 1935 the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was organized, with Mary McLeod Bethune as the first president. Bethune was a leading member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Black Cabinet," a group of African American leaders who lobbied for political reforms.
In April 1935 William E. Borah, a senator from Idaho, successfully demanded that funding for the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act and other New Deal relief efforts not be used to build munitions or warships. A persistent opponent of President Roosevelt's foreign policy and the leader of isolationists in the Senate, Borah was a progressive Republican who supported many New Deal programs, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission, National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), and Social Security.
In a special election on 12 January 1932 Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, when voters chose her to fill out the remaining year of...
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Grace Abbott, 61, social worker, head of the U.S. Children's Bureau (1921—1934), active in shaping New Deal policies, 19 June 1939.
Jane Addams, 74, social worker, the first president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, 21 May 1935.
Newton D. Baker, 66, secretary of war (1916-1921) under President Woodrow Wilson, 25 December 1937.
Albert Sidney Burleson, 74, U.S. congressman from Texas (1899-1913), postmaster general (1913-1921) under President Wilson, 24 November 1937.
Pierce Butler, 83, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1923-1939), one of the four conservative justices who opposed the New Deal, 16 November 1939.
Joseph Wellington Byrns, 66, U.S. congressman from Tennessee (1909—1936), majority leader of the House of Representatives (1932-1935), and speaker of the House of Representatives (1935-1936), 4 June 1936.
Benjamin N. Cardozo, 68, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1932-1938), 9 July 1938,
William Patrick Connery Jr., 48, U.S. congressman from Massachusetts (1923—1937), supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal as chair of the House Labor Committee, 15 June 1937.
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Grace Adams, Workers on Relief (New Haven: Yale University Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1939);
Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties (New York: Harper, 1931);
Joseph Alsop, Men Around the President (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1939);
Joseph Alsop and Turner Catledge, The 168 Days (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1938);
Charles A. Beard, America Faces the Future (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1932);
Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard, America in Midpassage, 2 volumes (New York: Macmillan, 1939);
Adolf A. Berle and Gardiner C. Means, Modern Corporation and Private Property (New York: Commerce Clearing House, 1932);
Stuart Chase, A New Deal (New York: Macmillan, 1932);
W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935);
James A. Farley, Behind the Ballots: The Personal History of a Politician (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938);
Herbert Hoover, American Ideals versus the New Deal: A Series of Ten Addresses upon Pressing National...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Important Events in Government and Politics, 1930–1939
- In January, the number of unemployed in America reaches four million.
- On February 10, in Chicago more than one hundred people are arrested for distributing whiskey. Bootlegging has increased as opposition grows to Prohibition, instituted in 1919 by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
- On June 17, President Herbert Hoover signs into law the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, setting tariffs on imported goods at the highest rates in American history.
- On July 3, President Hoover signs into law an act establishing the Veterans Administration.
- On July 21, the Senate confirms the London Naval Treaty, in which the United States, Great Britain, and Japan agree to limitations on the size of their navies. The treaty supplements the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which also includes limitation agreements.
- On August 8, President Hoover makes public a federal report stating that one million farm families, who own 12 percent of all livestock in the country, are drought stricken.
- On November 4, in the congressional elections, the Democratic Party gains a majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the Democrats gain eight seats, leaving the Republicans in the majority by 48-47. The remaining seat is held by a member of the Farmer-Labor Party....
(The entire section is 3366 words.)