The New Deal
AS THE DATE OF FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT'S inauguration approached, the banking system disintegrated. Starting in the rural West and spreading to major cities like Detroit and Baltimore, a financial panic swept the land. Hundreds of banks collapsed. By inauguration day, four-fifths of the states had suspended all banking operations.
The Hundred Days
Something drastic had to be done. The most conservative business leaders were as ready for government intervention as the most advanced radicals. Partisanship, though not disappearing, was for once subordinated to broad national needs. Even before Roosevelt took office, Congress submitted to the states the Twenty-first Amendment, putting an end to prohibition. By the end of the year it had been ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the states, and the prohibition era was over.
But there is no denying that Franklin D. Roosevelt provided the spark that reenergized the American people. His inaugural address reassured the country and at the same time stirred it to action:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself .. .. Our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men." "This Nation asks for action, and action now." I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people." Many such fines punctuated the brief address, which concluded with a stern pledge:
In the event that Congress shall fail ... I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis-broad Executive Power to wage a war against the emergency
The inaugural captured the heart of the country. When Roosevelt summoned Congress into special session on March 9, the legislators outdid one another to enact his proposals into law. I had as soon start a mutiny in the face of a foreign foe as . . . against the program of the President," one representative declared. In the next "Hundred Days," serious opposition, in the sense of an organized group committed to resisting the administration, simply did not exist.
Roosevelt had the power and the will to act but no comprehensive plan of action. He and his eager congressional collaborators proceeded in a dozen directions at once, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, often at cross-purposes. As a result, one of the first administration measures was the Economy Act, which reduced the salaries of federal employees and cut veterans' benefits. Such belt-tightening measures could only make the depression worse. But most New Deal programs were designed to stimulate the economy. All in all, an impressive body of new legislation was placed on the statute books.
On March 5, Roosevelt declared a nationwide bank holiday and placed an embargo on the exportation of gold. To explain the complexities of the banking problem to the public, Roosevelt delivered the first of his "fireside chats" over a national radio network. "I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking," he explained. His warmth and steadiness reassured millions of listeners. A plan for reopening the banks under Treasury Department licenses was devised, and soon most of them were functioning again, public confidence in their solvency restored. This solved the problem, but it also determined that the banks would remain private institutions. Reform, not radical change, had been decided on at the very start of Roosevelt's presidency.
April, Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard, hoping thereby to cause prices to rise. Before the session ended, Congress established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to guarantee bank deposits. It also forced the separation of investment banking and commercial banking concerns while extending the power of the Federal Reserve Board over both types of institutions, and it created the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to refinance mortgages and prevent foreclosures. It passed the Federal Securities Act requiring promoters to make public full financial information about new stock issues and giving the Federal Trade Commission the right to regulate such transactions.*
The National Recovery Administration
Problems of unemployment and industrial stagnation had high priority during the Hundred Days. Congress appropriated $500 million for relief of the needy and created the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide jobs for men between the ages of 18 and 25 in reforestation and other conservation projects. To stimulate industry, Congress passed one of its most controversial measures, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). Besides establishing the Public Works Administration, with authority to spend $3.3 billion, this law permitted manufacturers to draw up industry wide codes of "fair business practices." Under the law, producers could agree to raise prices and limit production without violating the antitrust laws. The law gave workers the protection of minimum wage and maximum hours regulations and guaranteed them the right "to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing," an immense stimulus to the union movement.
The act created a government agency, the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to supervise the drafting and operation of the business codes. Drafting posed difficult problems, first because each industry insisted on tailoring the agreements to its special needs and second because most manufacturers were unwilling to accept all the provisions of Section 7a of the law dealing with the rights of labor. While thousands of employers agreed to the pledge "We Do Our Part" in order to receive the Blue Eagle symbol of the NRA, many were more interested in the monopolistic aspects of the act than in boosting wages and encouraging unionization. In practice, the codes were drawn up by the largest manufacturers in each industry.
The effects of the NIRA were both more and less than the designers of the system had intended. It did not end the depression. There was a brief upturn in the spring of 1933, but the expected revival of industry did not take place; in nearly every case the dominant producers in each industry used their power to raise prices and limit production rather than to hire more workers and increase output.
Beginning with the cotton textile code, the agreements succeeded in doing away with the centuries-old problem of child labor in industry. They established the principle of federal regulation of wages and hours and led to the organization of thousands of workers, even in industries where unions had seldom been significant. Within a year John L. Lewis's United Mine Workers expanded from 150,000 members to half a million. About 100,000 automobile workers joined unions, as did a comparable number of steelworkers.
Labor leaders cleverly used the NIRA to persuade workers that the popular President Roosevelt wanted them to join unions-which was something of an overstatement. In 1935, because the conservative and craft-oriented AFL had displayed little enthusiasm for enrolling unskilled workers on an industry wide basis, Lewis, together with officials of the garment trade unions, formed the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) and set out to rally workers in each of the mass-production industries into one union without regard for craft lines, a far more effective method of organization. The AFL expelled these unions, however, and in 1938 the CIO became the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Soon it rivaled the AFL in size and importance.
The Agricultural Adjustment Administration
Roosevelt was more concerned about the plight of the farmers than that of any other group because he believed that the nation was over committed to industry. The New Deal farm program, incorporated in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of May 1933, combined compulsory restrictions on production with government subsidies to growers of wheat, cotton, tobacco, pork, and a few other crops. The money for these payments was raised by levying processing taxes on middlemen such as flour millers. The object was to lift agricultural prices to "parity" with industrial prices. In return for withdrawing part of their land from cultivation, farmers received "rental" payments from the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA).
Since the 1933 crops were growing when the law was passed, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace decided to pay farmers to destroy the crops in the field. Cotton planters plowed up 10 million acres of growing crops, receiving $100 million in return. Six million baby pigs and 200,000 pregnant sows were slaughtered. Such ruthlessness appalled observers, particularly when they thought of the millions of hungry Americans who could have eaten all that pork.
Thereafter, limitation of acreage proved sufficient to raise some agricultural prices considerably. Tobacco growers benefited, and so did farmers who raised corn and hogs. The price of wheat also rose, though more because of bad harvests than the AAA program. But dairy farmers and cattlemen were hurt, as were the railroads (which had less freight to haul) and, of course, consumers. A far more serious weakness of the program was its failure to assist tenant farmers and sharecroppers, many of whom lost their livelihoods completely when owners took land out of production to obtain AAA payments. Yet in 1933 even farmers with large holdings were in desperate trouble, and they at least were helped. Acreage restrictions and mortgage relief saved thousands.
The Tennessee Valley Authority
Another striking achievement of the Hundred Days was the creation of the' Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). During World War I the government had constructed a hydroelectric plant at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to provide power for factories manufacturing synthetic nitrate explosives. After 1920, farm groups and public power enthusiasts had blocked administration plans to turn these facilities over to private capitalists. Their efforts to have the site operated by the government had been defeated by presidential vetoes.
Roosevelt wanted to have the entire Tennessee Valley area incorporated into a broad experiment in social planning. Besides expanding the hydroelectric plants and developing nitrate manufacturing in order to produce cheap fertilizers, he envisioned a coordinated program of soil conservation, reforestation, and industrialization.
Over the objections of private power companies, led by Wendell L. Willkie of the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation, Congress passed the TVA Act in May 1933. This law created a board authorized to build dams, power plants, and transmission lines and sell fertilizers and electricity to individuals and local communities. The board could undertake flood control, soil conservation, and reforestation projects. The TVA greatly improved the standard of living of millions of inhabitants of the valley. In addition to producing electricity and fertilizers and providing a "yardstick" whereby the efficiency, and thus the rates, of private power companies could be tested, it took on other functions, ranging from the eradication of malaria to the development of recreational facilities.
The New Deal Spirit
By the end of the Hundred Days the country had made up its mind about Roosevelt's New Deal and for a decade never really changed it. A large majority considered the New Deal a solid success. Considerable recovery had taken place, but more basic was the fact that Roosevelt, recruiting an army of forceful officials to staff the new government agencies, had infused his administration with a spirit of bustle and optimism.
Although Roosevelt was not much of an intellectual, he was eager to draw on the ideas and energies of experts. New Deal agencies soon teemed with college professors and young lawyers without political experience. However, the New Deal lacked a consistent ideological base. It drew on the old populist tradition, as seen in its antipathy toward bankers and its willingness to adopt schemes for inflating the currency; on the New Nationalism of Theodore Roosevelt in its dislike of competition and its deemphasis of the antitrust laws; and on the ideas of social workers trained in the Progressive Era. Techniques developed by the Wilsonians also found a place in the system: Louis D. Brandeis had considerable influence on Roosevelt's financial reforms, and New Deal labor policy grew directly out of the experience of the War Labor Board of 1917-1918.
Within the administrative maze that Roosevelt created, rival bureaucrats battled to enforce their views. The "spenders," led by Columbia economist Rexford G. Tugwell, clashed with advocates of strict economy, who gathered around Lewis Douglas, director of the budget. Blithely disregarding logically irreconcilable differences, Roosevelt mediated between the factions. Washington became a battleground for dozens of special interest groups: the Farm Bureau Federation, the unions, the trade associations, the silver miners. William E. Leuchtenburg has described New Deal policy as "interest-group democracy"; though superior to that of Roosevelt's predecessors-who had allowed one interest, big business, to predominate-it slighted the unorganized majority. The NRA aimed frankly at raising the prices paid by consumers of manufactured goods; the AAA processing tax came ultimately from the pocketbooks of ordinary citizens.
At least 9 million persons were still without work in 1934, and hundreds of thousands of them were in real need. Malcolm Little (later famous as Malcolm X) remembered growing up in the depression this way:
This  was about the worst depression year, and no one we knew had enough to eat... There were times when there wasn't even a nickel and we would be so hungry we were dizzy. My mother would boil a big pot of dandelion greens and we would eat that.
Yet the Democrats confounded the political experts, by increasing their already large majorities in both houses of Congress in the 1934 elections. All the evidence indicates that most of the jobless continued to support the administration. Their loyalty can best be explained by Roosevelt's unemployment policies.
In May 1933, Congress had established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and given it $500 million to be dispensed through state relief organizations. Roosevelt appointed Harry L. Hopkins, a social worker, to direct the FERA. Hopkins insisted that the unemployed needed jobs, not handouts. In November he persuaded Roosevelt to create the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and within a month he put more than 4 million persons to work building and repairing roads and public buildings, teaching, decorating the walls of post offices with murals, and applying their special skills in dozens of other ways.
The cost of this program frightened Roosevelt-Hopkins spent about $1 billion in less than five months-and he soon abolished the CWA. But an extensive public works program was continued throughout 1934 under the FERA.
In May 1935, Roosevelt put Hopkins in charge of a new agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). By the time this agency was disbanded in 1943, it had spent $11 billion and found employment for 8.5 million persons. Besides building public works, the WPA made important cultural contributions. It developed the Federal Theater Project, which put thousands of actors, directors, and stagehands to work; the Federal Writers' Project, which turned out valuable guidebooks, collected local lore, and published about a thousand books and pamphlets; and the Federal Art Project, which employed needy painters and sculptors. In addition, the National Youth Administration created part-time jobs for more than 2 million high school and college students and a larger number of other youths.
The WPA did not reach all the unemployed. At no time in the 1930s did unemployment fall below 10 percent of the work force. Like so many New Deal programs, the WPA did not go far enough, chiefly because Roosevelt could not escape his fear of unbalancing the federal budget drastically. Halfway measures did not provide the massive stimulus the economy needed. The president also hesitated to pay adequate wages to WPA workers and to undertake projects that might compete with private enterprises for fear of offending business. Yet his caution did him no good politically; the business interests he sought to placate were becoming increasingly hostile to the New Deal.
Literature in the Depression
Some American novelists found Soviet communism attractive and wrote "proletarian" novels in which ordinary workers were the heroes. Most of these books were of little artistic merit. The best of the depression writers avoided the party line, though they were critical of many aspects of American life. One was John Dos Passos, author of the trilogy U.S.A. (1930-1936). This massive work, rich in detail and intricately constructed, advanced a fundamentally anticapitalist and deeply pessimistic point of view. It portrayed American society between 1900 and 1930 in broad perspective, interweaving the stories of five major characters and a galaxy of lesser figures. Throughout the narrative Dos Passos scattered capsule sketches of famous people, ranging from Andrew Carnegie and William Jennings Bryan to the movie idol Rudolph Valentino and the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He included "newsreel" sections recounting events of the period and "camera eye" sections in which he revealed his personal reactions to the passing parade. Dos Passos's method was relentless, cold, methodical-utterly realistic. He displayed immense craftsmanship but no sympathy for his characters or their world.
The novel that best portrayed the desperate plight of the millions impoverished by the depression was John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1939), which described the fate of the Joads, an Oklahoma farm family driven by drought and bad times to abandon the land and become migratory laborers in California. Steinbeck captured the patient bewilderment of the downtrodden, the callous brutality bred of fear that characterized their exploiters, and the ultimate indignation of a people repeatedly degraded. "In the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."
Like many other writers of the 1930s, Steinbeck was an angry man. "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation," he wrote. He had the compassion that Dos Passos lacked, and this quality raised The Grapes of Wrath to the level of great tragedy. In other works Steinbeck described the life of California cannery workers and ranchers with moving warmth but without excessive sentiment.
William Faulkner, perhaps the finest modem American novelist, responded to the era in still another way. Born in 1897, within a year of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, he attained literary maturity only in the 1930s. Between 1929 and 1932 he burst into prominence with four major novels: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, and Light in August.
Faulkner created a local world, Yoknapatawpha County, and peopled it with some of the most remarkable characters in American fiction-the Sartoris family, typical of the old southern aristocracy worn down at the heels; the Snopes clan, shrewd, unscrupulous, boorish representatives of the new day; and many others. Vividly he pictured the South's poverty and its pride, its dreadful racial problem, the guilt and obscure passions plaguing white and black alike. No contemporary excelled him as a commentator on the multiple dilemmas of modern life. His characters are possessed, driven to pursue high ideals yet weighted down with their awareness of their inadequacies and their sinfulness. They are imprisoned in their surroundings, however they may strive to escape them. As the French novelist Simone de Beauvoir once wrote, Faulkner "offered us a glimpse of... those secret, shameful fires that rage in the bellies of men and women alike."
Roosevelt's moderation irked extremists both on the left and on the right. The most formidable was Louisiana's Senator Huey Long, the "Kingfish." Long was controversial in his day, and so he has remained. He was certainly a demagogue. Yet the plight of all poor people concerned him deeply. More important, he tried to do something about it.
Long did not question segregation or white supremacy. He used the word nigger without self-consciousness, even when addressing northern black leaders. But he treated black-baiters with scathing contempt. When Hiram W. Evans, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, announced that he intended to campaign against him in Louisiana, Long told reporters: "Quote me as saying that that Imperial bastard will never set foot in Louisiana, and that when I call him a sonofabitch I am not using profanity, but am referring to the circumstances of his birth."
As a reformer, Long stood in the populist tradition; he hated bankers and "the interests." He believed that poor people, regardless of color, should have a chance to earn a decent living and get an education. His arguments were simplistic, patronizing, possibly insincere, but effective. "Don't say I'm working for niggers," he told a northern black journalist. "I'm for the poor man-all poor men. Black and white, they all gotta have a chance . Every Man a King'-that's my slogan."
Raffish, unrestrained, yet shrewd, Long had supported the New Deal at the start, but partly because he thought Roosevelt too conservative and partly because of his own ambition, he soon broke with the administration. By 1935 his Share Our Wealth movement had a membership of over 4.6 million. His program called for the confiscation of family fortunes of more than $5 million and a tax of 100 percent on incomes of over $1 million a year. The money collected would be enough to buy every family a "homestead" (a house, a car, and other necessities) and provide an annual family income of $2,000 to $3,000 plus old-age pensions, educational benefits, and veterans' pensions. Long planned to organize a third party to split the liberal vote in the 1936 election. He assumed that the Republicans would win the election and so botch the job of fighting the depression that he could sweep the country in 1940.
Less powerful than Long but more widely influential was Father Charles E. Coughlin, the "Radio Priest." Coughlin began his public career in 1926, broadcasting a weekly religious message over station WJR in Detroit. His mellifluous voice and orotund rhetoric won him a huge national audience, and the depression gave him a secular cause. In 1933 he had been an eager New Dealer, but his need for ever more sensational ideas to hold his radio audience from week to week led him to turn away. By 1935 he was calling Roosevelt a "great betrayer and Ear."
Although Coughlin's National Union for Social justice was especially appealing to Catholics, it attracted people of every faith, particularly in the lower-middle-class districts of the big cities. Coughlin attacked bankers, New Deal planners, Roosevelt's farm program, and the alleged sympathy of the administration for communists and Jews, both groups that Coughlin detested. His program resembled fascism more than any leftist philosophy, but he posed a threat, especially in combination with Long, to the continuation of Democratic rule.
Another rapidly growing movement alarmed the Democrats in 1934 and 1935: Dr. Francis E. Townsend's campaign for "old-age revolving pensions." Townsend was colorless and low-key, but he had an oversimplified and thus appealing "solution" to the nation's troubles: paying every person 60 and over a pension of $200 a month, the only conditions being that the pensioners must not hold jobs and must spend the entire sum within 30 days. A stiff transaction tax, collected whenever any commodity changed hands, would pay for the program.
Economists quickly pointed out that with about 10 million persons eligible for the Townsend pensions, the cost would amount to $24 billion a year, roughly half the national income. But among the elderly the scheme proved extremely popular. Although most Townsendites were anything but radical politically, their plan, like Long's Share Our Wealth scheme, would have revolutionized the distribution of wealth in the country. The movement reflected, on the one hand, a reactionary spirit like that of religious fundamentalists and, on the other, the emergence of a new force in American society: With medical advances lengthening the average life span, the percentage of old people in the population was rising.
With the possible exception of Long, the extremists had little understanding of practical affairs. (It could be said that Townsend knew what to do with money but not how to get it, and Coughlin knew how to get money but not what to do with it.) Collectively, they represented a threat to Roosevelt; their success helped him see that he must move boldly to restore good times or face serious political trouble in 1936.
Political imperatives had much to do with his decision, and the influence of Justice Brandeis and his disciples, notably Felix Frankfurter, was great. They urged Roosevelt to abandon his pro-business programs, especially the NRA, and stress restoring competition and taxing corporations more heavily. The fact that most businessmen were turning from him encouraged the president to accept this advice; so did the Supreme Court's decision in Schechter v. United States in May 1935, which declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional.
The Second New Deal
Existing laws had failed to end the depression; extremists were luring away some of Roosevelt's supporters, and conservatives had failed to appreciate his moderation. Thousands of ordinary people were clamoring for further reforms. At the same time, the Supreme Court was declaring many New Deal laws unconstitutional. For these many reasons, Roosevelt, in June 1935, launched the Second New Deal.
The Second Hundred Days was one of the most productive periods in the history of American legislation. The National Labor Relations Act---commonly known as the Wagner Act-restored the labor guarantees wiped out by the Schechter decision. It gave workers the right to bargain collectively and prohibited employers from interfering with union organizational activities in their factories. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was established to supervise plant elections and designate successful unions as official bargaining agents when a majority of the workers approved. The NLRB forced antiunion corporations to bargain "in good faith" as the law required and to rehire workers discharged for union activities.
The Social Security Act of August 1935 set up a system of old-age insurance, financed partly by a tax on wages (paid by workers) and partly by a tax on payrolls (paid by employers). It created a state-federal system of unemployment insurance, similarly financed. Liberal critics considered this social security system inadequate because it did not cover agricultural workers, domestics, self-employed persons, and some other groups particularly in need of its benefits. Health insurance was not included, and because the size of pensions depended on the amount earned, the lowest-paid workers could not count on much support after reaching age 65. Over the years the pension payments were increased, and the classes of workers covered were expanded.
Among other important laws enacted at this time was the Public Utility Holding Company Act, which outlawed the pyramiding of control of gas and electricity companies through the use of holding companies and gave various federal commissions the power to regulate the rates and financial practices of these companies. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA), created by executive order, also began to function during this remarkable period. The REA lent money at low interest rates to utility companies and to farmer cooperatives interested in supplying electricity to rural areas. When the REA went into operation, only one farm in ten had electricity; by 1950 only one in ten did not.
Another important measure was the Wealth Tax Act of August 1935, which, while not the "soak the rich" measure both its supporters and its opponents claimed, raised taxes on large incomes considerably. Estate and gift taxes were also increased.
Herbert Hoover epitomized the attitude of conservatives when he called the New Deal "the most stupendous invasion of the whole spirit of Liberty that the nation has witnessed." Undoubtedly, many opponents of the New Deal sincerely believed that it was undermining the foundations of American freedom. The cost of the New Deal also alarmed them. By 1936 some members of the administration had fallen under the influence of the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who argued that the world depression could be conquered if governments would unbalance their budgets by reducing interest rates and taxes and increasing expenditures in order to stimulate consumption and investment.
Roosevelt never accepted Keynes's theories, but the imperatives of the depression forced him to spend more than the government was collecting in taxes. Conservative businessmen considered him financially irresponsible, and the fact that deficit spending seemed to be good politics made them seethe with rage.
The Election of 1936
The election of 1936 loomed as a showdown. "America is in peril," the Republican platform declared. The GOP candidate, Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas, was reasonably liberal, but he was handicapped by the reactionary views of many of his backers. Against Roosevelt's charm and political astuteness, Landon's arguments-chiefly that he could administer the government more efficiently than the president-made little impression.
The radical fringe put a third candidate in the field, Congressman William Lemke of North Dakota, who ran on the Union party ticket. Father Coughlin rallied his National Union for Social Justice behind Lemke; Dr. Townsend also supported him. However, the extremists were losing ground by 1936. Huey Long had fallen victim to an assassin in September 1935, and his organization was taken over by a blatantly demagogic rightist, Gerald L. K. Smith. The Townsendites fell under a cloud because of rumors that some of their leaders had their fingers in the organization's treasury. Father Coughlin's slanderous assaults on Roosevelt caused a backlash; a number of American Catholic prelates denounced him, and the Vatican issued an unofficial but influential rebuke. Lemke got only 892,000 votes.
Roosevelt did not win in 1936 because of the inadequacies of his foes. Having abandoned his efforts to hold the businessmen, whom he now denounced as "economic royalists," he appealed for the votes of workers and the underprivileged. The new labor unions gratefully poured thousands of dollars into the campaign to reelect him. Black voters switched to the Democrats in record numbers. Farmers liked Roosevelt because of his evident concern for their welfare: When the Supreme Court declared the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional (United States v. Butler, 1936), he immediately rushed through a new law, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, which accomplished the same objective by paying farmers to divert land from commercial crops to soil-building plants like clover and soybeans. Countless elderly persons backed him out of gratitude for the Social Security Act. Homeowners were grateful for his program guaranteeing mortgages. A modest upturn in industrial output to the levels of 1930 played into Roosevelt's hands. For the first time since 1931, U.S. Steel was showing a profit.
On election day the country gave the president a tremendous vote of confidence. He carried every state but Maine and Vermont. Both Roosevelt's personality and his program had captivated the land. He seemed irresistible, the most powerfully entrenched president in the history of the United States.
Roosevelt tries to Undermine the Supreme Court
On January 20, in his second inaugural, Roosevelt spoke feelingly of the plight of millions of citizens. A third of the nation, he said without exaggeration, was "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." He interpreted his landslide victory as a mandate for further reforms, and with his prestige and his immense congressional majorities, nothing appeared to stand in his way-nothing, that is, except the Supreme Court.
Throughout Roosevelt's first term, the Court had stood almost immovable against increasing the scope of federal authority and broadening the general power of government, state as well as national, to cope with the exigencies of the depression. Four of the nine justices-James C. McReynolds, Willis Van Devanter, Pierce Butler, and George Sutherland-were intransigent reactionaries. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen J. Roberts, while more open-minded, tended to side with the reactionaries on many questions.
Much of the early New Deal legislation had been drafted without proper regard for the Constitution. Even the liberal justices considered the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional (the Schechter decision had been unanimous). The Court had also voided the federal Guffey-Snyder Act, establishing minimum wages in the coal industry, and a New York minimum wage law, thereby creating, as Roosevelt remarked, a "no man's land" where neither national nor state government could act. Worse, the reactionaries on the Court seemed governed by no consistent constitutional philosophy; they tended to limit the police power of the states when wages-and-hours laws came before them and to interpret it broadly when state laws restricting civil liberties were under consideration. In 1937 all the major measures of the Second Hundred Days appeared doomed.
Roosevelt decided to ask Congress to shift the balance on the Court by increasing the number of justices, thinly disguising the purpose of his plan by making it part of a general reorganization of the judiciary. A member of the Court reaching the age of 70 would have the option of retiring at full pay. Should such a justice choose not to retire, the president was to appoint an additional justice, up to a maximum of six, to ease the burden of work for the aged jurists who remained on the bench.
Roosevelt knew that this measure would run into resistance, but he expected Congress to pass it. No astute politician had erred so badly in estimating the effects of an action since Stephen A. Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854. To the expected denunciations of conservatives were added the complaints of liberals fearful that the principle of court packing might in the future be used to subvert civil liberties. Opposition in Congress was immediate and intense; many representatives and senators who had cheerfully supported every New Deal bill came out against the plan. The press denounced it, and so did most local bar associations. Chief Justice
Hughes released a devastating critique; even the liberal Brandeis-the oldest judge on the court rejected the bill out of hand. For months, Roosevelt stubbornly refused to concede defeat, but in July 1937 he had to yield. Minor administrative reforms of the judiciary were enacted, but the size of the Court remained unchanged.
The struggle did save the legislation of the Second New Deal. Alarmed by the threat to the Court, Justices Hughes and Roberts, never entirely committed to the conservative position, beat a strategic retreat on a series of specific issues. While the debate was raging in Congress, they sided with the liberals in upholding first a minimum wage law of the state of Washington that was little different from the New York act the Court had recently rejected, then the Wagner Act, then the Social Security Act. In May, Justice Van Devanter retired, and Roosevelt replaced him with Senator Hugo Black of Alabama, a New Dealer. The conservative justices thereupon gave up the fight, and soon Roosevelt was able to appoint enough new judges to give the Court a large pro-New Deal majority. No further measure of significance was declared unconstitutional during his presidency.
The Court fight hurt Roosevelt severely. His prestige never fully recovered. Conservative Democrats who had feared to oppose him because of his supposedly invulnerable popularity took heart and began to join with the Republicans on key issues. When the president summoned a special session of Congress in November 1937 and submitted a program of "must" legislation, not one of his bills was passed.
The New Deal Winds Down
The Court fight marked the beginning of the end of the New Deal. Social and economic developments contributed to its decline, and the final blow originated in the area of foreign affairs. With unemployment high, wages low, and workers relatively powerless against their employers, most Americans had liked New Deal labor legislation and sympathized with the industrial unions whose growth it stimulated. The NRA, the Wagner Act, and the CIO's organizing of such industries as steel and automobiles changed the power structure within the economy. Aside from higher wages, shorter hours, and similar benefits, unionization had provided both fair methods of settling labor-management disputes and job security based on seniority for thousands of workers. The CIO had also increased the influence of labor in politics and brought many blacks and other minorities into the labor movement.
In 1937 a series of "sit-down strikes" broke out, beginning at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan. Striking workers barricaded themselves inside the factories; when police and strikebreakers tried to dislodge them, they fought with barrages of soda bottles, tools, spare parts, and crockery. The tolerant attitude of the Roosevelt administration assured the strikers the government would not intervene. Fearful that all-out efforts to clear their plants would result in the destruction of expensive machinery, most employers capitulated to the workers' demands.
The major steel companies, led by U.S. Steel, recognized the CIO and granted higher wages and a 40-hour workweek. The auto and steel unions alone boasted more than 725,000 members by late 1937; other CIO units conquered numerous industries, including rubber and textiles. These gains gave many members of the middle class second thoughts about the fairness of labor's demands. The enthusiasm of such people for reform cooled rapidly.
While the sit-down strikes and the Court fight were going on, the New Deal suffered another heavy blow. Business conditions had been gradually improving since 1933. Heartened by the trend, Roosevelt, who had never fully grasped the importance of government spending in stimulating recovery, cut back sharply on the relief program in June 1937, with disastrous results. Between August and October the economy slipped downward like sand through a chute. Stock prices plummeted; unemployment rose by 2 million; industrial production slumped. This "Roosevelt recession" further damaged the president's reputation.
In April 1938, Roosevelt finally committed himself to heavy deficit spending. At his urging Congress passed a $3.75 billion public works bill. Two major pieces of legislation were also enacted at about this time. A new AAA program in February 1938 set marketing quotas and acreage limitations for growers of staples like wheat, cotton, and tobacco and authorized the Commodity Credit Corporation to lend money to farmers on their surplus crops. The surpluses were to be stored by the government. When prices rose, farmers could repay the loans, reclaim their produce, and sell it on the open market, thereby maintaining an "ever-normal granary. 11
The second measure, the Fair Labor Standards Act, abolished child labor and established a national minimum wage of 40 cents an hour and a maximum workweek of 40 hours, with time and a half for overtime. Although the law failed to cover many of the poorest-paid types of labor, its passage meant wage increases for 750,000 workers. In later years many more workers were brought within its protection, and the minimum wage was repeatedly increased.
These measures further alienated conservatives without dramatically improving economic conditions. The resistance of many Democratic congressmen to additional economic and social "experiments" hardened. As the 1938 elections approached, Roosevelt decided to go to the voters in an effort to strengthen party discipline and reenergize the New Deal. He singled out a number of conservative Democratic senators and tried to "purge" them by backing other Democrats in the primaries. The purge failed. Voters liked Roosevelt but resented his interference in local politics. The senators were easily renominated and then reelected in November. In the nation at large, the Republicans made important gains for the first time since Roosevelt had taken office.
Significance of the New Deal
After World War II broke out in 1939, the Great Depression was swept away on a wave of orders from the beleaguered European democracies. For this prosperity Roosevelt received much undeserved credit. His New Deal had not returned the country to full employment. Despite the aid given the jobless, the generation of workers born between 1900 and 1910 who entered the 1930s as unskilled laborers had their careers permanently stunted by the depression. Roosevelt's willingness to experiment with different means of combating the depression made sense because no one really knew what to do; however, his uncertainty about the ultimate objectives of the New Deal was counterproductive. He vacillated between seeking to stimulate the economy through deficit spending and trying to balance the budget, between a narrow "America first'! economic nationalism and a broad-gauged international approach, between regulating monopolies and trustbusting; between helping the underprivileged and bolstering those already strong. He could never make up his mind whether to try to rally liberals to his cause without regard for party or to run the government as a partisan leader, conciliating the conservative Democrats.
Roosevelt's fondness for establishing new agencies to deal with specific problems vastly increased the federal bureaucracy. His cavalier attitude toward constitutional limitations on executive power, which he justified as being necessary in a national emergency, set in motion trends that so increased the prestige and authority of the presidency that the balance among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches was threatened.
Yet these criticisms ignore what one historian has called the "sense of urgency and haste" that made the New Deal "a mixture of accomplishment, frustration, and misdirected effort." On balance, the New Deal had an immense constructive impact. By 1939 the country was committed to the idea that the federal government should accept responsibility for the national welfare and act to meet specific problems in every necessary way. What was most significant was not the proliferation of new agencies or the expansion of federal power. The importance of the "Roosevelt revolution" was that it removed the issue from politics. "Never again," a presidential candidate was to say in 1952, "shall we allow a depression in the United States."
Because of New Deal decisions, many formerly unregulated areas of American life became subject to federal authority: the stock exchange, agricultural prices and production, labor relations, old-age pensions, relief of the needy. If the New Deal faded to end the depression, it effected changes that have prevented later economic declines from becoming catastrophes. By encouraging the growth of unions, the New Deal probably helped workers obtain a larger share of the profits of industry. By putting a floor under the income of many farmers, it checked the decline of agricultural living standards, though not that of the agricultural population. The social security program, with all its inadequacies, lessened the impact of bad times on an increasingly large proportion of the population and provided immense psychological benefits to all.
Among other important social changes, the TVA and the New Deal rural electrification program made farm life literally more civilized. Urban public housing, though never undertaken on a massive scale, helped rehabilitate some of the nation's worst slums. Exploitation of the natural resources of the West was checked. The NIRA and later labor legislation forced business leaders to reexamine their role in American life and to become more socially conscious. The WPA art and theater programs widened the horizons of millions. All in all, the spirit of the New Deal heightened the people's sense of community, revitalized national energies, and stimulated the imagination and creative instincts of countless citizens.
Women New Dealers: The Network
Largely because of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Molly Dewson, head of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee, the Roosevelt administration employed far more women in positions of importance than any earlier one. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to a Cabinet post, had been active in labor relations for more than 20 years as secretary of the Consumers' League, as a factory inspector, and as chair of the New York State Industrial Commission. As secretary of labor she helped draft New Deal labor legislation and kept Roosevelt informed on various labor problems outside the government.
In addition to Perkins, there were dozens of other women New Dealers; Molly Dewson and Eleanor Roosevelt headed an informal but effective "network"-women in key posts who were always seeking to place reform-minded women in government jobs. (According to the historian William Chafe, "Washington seemed like a perpetual convention of social workers as women ... [look] on government assignments.")
As for Eleanor Roosevelt, through her newspaper column, "My Day," and as a speaker on public issues, she became a major political force-in the words of the historian Tamara Hareven, "an ombudsman with the increasingly bureaucratized and impersonal [federal] government." Her influence was large, especially in the area of civil rights, where the administration needed constant prodding.
She was particularly identified with efforts to obtain better treatment for blacks, in and out of government. Her best-known action occurred in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to permit the use of their Washington auditorium for a concert by the black contralto Marian Anderson. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. in protest, and after the president arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial, she persuaded a small army of dignitaries to sponsor the concert. An interracial crowd of 75,000 people attended the performance. The Chicago Defender, noted that the First Lady "stood like the Rock of Gibraltar against pernicious encroachments on the rights of minorities." (A disgruntled southerner made the same point differently: "She goes around telling the Negroes they are as good as anyone else.")
Blacks During the New Deal
The shift of black voters from the Republican to the Democratic party during the New Deal years was one of the most significant political turnarounds in American history. In 1932, when things were at their worst, fewer blacks defected from the Republican party than the members of any other traditionally Republican group. Four years later, however, blacks voted for Roosevelt in overwhelming numbers.
Blacks supported the New Deal for the same reasons that whites did, but how the New Deal affected blacks in general and racial attitudes specifically are more complicated questions. Many of the early New Deal programs treated blacks as second class citizens. They were often paid at lower rates than whites under NRA codes (and so joked that NRA stood for "Negro Run Around" and "Negroes Ruined Again"). The early farm programs shortchanged black tenants and sharecroppers. Blacks in the Civilian Conservation Corps were assigned to all-black camps. TVA developments were rigidly segregated too. New Deal urban housing projects effectively increased the concentration of blacks in particular neighborhoods. The Social Security Act excluded agricultural laborers and domestic servants from coverage. In 1939 unemployment was twice as high among blacks as among whites, and whites' wages were double the level of blacks' wages.
The fact that members of racial minorities got less than they deserved did not keep most of them from becoming New Dealers. Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes appointed Charles Forman as a special assistant assigned "to keep the government honest when it came to race." Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College, was appointed head of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration (NYA). She developed training programs for disadvantaged black youngsters and lobbied throughout the Washington bureaucracy on behalf of better opportunities for blacks.
In the labor movement the new CIO unions recruited black members, and this was particularly significant because these unions were organizing industries-steel, automobiles, and mining, among others-that employed large numbers of blacks. Thus while black Americans suffered horribly during the depression, New Deal efforts to counteract its effects brought them some relief and a measure of hope.
A New Deal for Indians
As in many other matters, New Deal policy toward American Indians built on early trends but carried them further. During the Harding and Coolidge administrations, more Indian land had passed into the hands of whites, and agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs had tried to suppress any element of Indian culture that they considered "pagan" or "lascivious." In 1924 Congress finally granted citizenship to all Indians, but whites still generally agreed that Indians should be treated as wards of the state. Assimilation had failed; indeed, tribal cultures had proved remarkably enduring. Indian languages and religious practices, patterns of family life, arts and crafts-all had resisted generations of efforts to "civilize" the tribes.
Government policy took a new direction in 1933 when President Roosevelt named John Collier commissioner of Indian affairs. In the 1920s Collier had studied the Indians of the Southwest and was appalled by what he learned. He became executive secretary of the American Indian Defense Association and in 1925 editor of a reform-oriented magazine, American Indian Life. By the time he was appointed commissioner, the depression had reduced to penury perhaps one-third of the 320,000 Indians living on reservations.
Collier was convinced that something should be done to revive the spirits of these people. He favored a pluralistic approach, seeking to help the Indians preserve their ancient cultures but also, somewhat contradictorily, to help them earn more money and make use of modern medical advances and modem techniques of soil conservation. He was particularly eager to encourage the revival of tribal governments that could represent the Indians in dealings with the U.S. government and function as community service centers.
In part because of Collier's urging, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This law did away with the Dawes Act allotment system and enabled Indians to establish tribal governments with powers like those of cities, and it encouraged, but did not require, Indians to return individually owned lands to tribal control. In various ways about 4 million of the 90 million acres of Indian land lost under the allotment system were returned to the tribes. In addition, Harry Hopkins made special efforts to see that needy Indians who were not living on reservations got relief aid. There was also a special Indian division of the Civilian Conservation Corps that organized work for Indians right on their reservations.
New Deal Indian policy was controversial among Indians as well as other groups. Some critics charged Collier with trying to turn back the clock. Others attacked him as a segregationist and claimed that he was trying to restore "pagan" religious practices and convert the Indians to communism. Still others objected to his employing numerous professional anthropologists with supposedly "advanced" ideas.
In truth the problem was more complicated than Collier had imagined. Indians who owned profitable allotments, such as those in Oklahoma who held valuable oil and mineral rights, did not relish turning their land over to tribal control. In New Mexico, the Navajos, whose lands had relatively little commercial value, nonetheless voted decisively against going back to the communal system. All told, 77 of 269 tribes voted against communal holdings. Nevertheless, like so many of its programs, the New Deal's Indian policy marked an important and necessary shift of perspective, a bold effort to deal constructively with a long-standing national problem.
The Role of Roosevelt
How much of the credit for New Deal policies belongs personally to Franklin D. Roosevelt is debatable. He had little to do with many of the details and some of the broad principles behind the New Deal. His knowledge of economics was skimpy, his understanding of many social problems superficial, his political philosophy distressingly vague. The British leader Anthony Eden described him as "a conjurer,
skillfully juggling with balls of dynamite, whose nature he failed to understand," and the historian David Brody writes shrewdly of Roosevelt's "unreflective acceptance" of the basic structure of American society.
Nevertheless, every aspect of the New Deal bears the brand of Roosevelt's remarkable personality. Rexford Tugwell made one of the best-balanced judgments of the president. "Roosevelt was not really very much at home with ideas," Tugwell explained. He preferred to stick with what he already knew. But he was always open to new facts, and something within him "forbade inaction when there was something to be done." Roosevelt's political genius constructed the coalition that made the program possible; his humanitarianism made it a reform movement of major significance. Although considered by many a terrible administrator because he encouraged rivalry among his subordinates, assigned different agencies overlapping responsibilities, failed to discharge many incompetents, and frequently put off making difficult decisions, he was in fact one of the most effective chief executives in the nation's history. His seemingly haphazard practice of dividing authority among competing administrators unleashed the energies and sparked the imaginations of his aides, which gave the ponderous federal bureaucracy remarkable flexibility and elan.
Like Andrew Jackson, Roosevelt maximized his role as leader of all the people. His informal biweekly press conferences kept the public in touch with developments and himself in tune with popular thinking. He made the radio an instrument for communicating with the masses in the most direct way imaginable: His fireside chats convinced millions that he was personally interested in each citizen's life and welfare, as in a way he was. At a time when the size and complexity of the government made it impossible for any one person to direct the nation's destiny, Roosevelt managed the minor miracle of personifying that government to 130 million people. Under Hoover, a single clerk was able to handle the routine mad that flowed into the office of the president from ordinary citizens; under Roosevelt, the task required a staff of 50.
While the New Deal was still evolving, contemporaries recognized Roosevelt's right to a place beside Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln among the great presidents. The years have not altered their judgment. Yet as his second term drew toward its close, some of his most important work still lay in the future.
The Triumph of Isolationism
Franklin Roosevelt was at heart an internationalist, but his highest priority was to end the depression, and like most world leaders in the 1930s, he placed the revival of his own country's limping economy ahead of general world recovery. In April 1933 he took the United States off the gold standard, hoping that devaluing the dollar would make it easier to sell American goods abroad. His decision increased international ill feeling.
Against this background, vital changes in American foreign policy took place. Unable to persuade the country to take positive action against aggressors, internationalists like Secretary of State Stimson had begun in 1931 to work for a discretionary arms embargo law, to be applied by the president in time of war against whichever side had broken the peace. By early 1933 Stimson had obtained President Hoover's backing for an embargo bill, as well as the support of President-elect Roosevelt. First the munitions manufacturers and then the isolationists pounced on it, and in the resulting debate it was amended to make the embargo apply impartially to all belligerents. Stimson's policy would have permitted arms shipments to China but not to Japan. As amended, the embargo would have automatically applied to both sides, thus removing the United States as an influence in the conflict. Though Roosevelt accepted the change, the internationalists in Congress did not, and when they withdrew their support, the measure died.
The attitude of the munitions makers, who opposed both forms of the embargo, led to a series of studies of the industry. The most important was a Senate investigation (1934-1936) headed by Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota. Nye was convinced that "the interests" had conspired to drag America into World War 1; his investigation was more an inquisition than an honest effort to discover what American bankers and munitions makers had been doing between 1914 and 1918. The committee's staff, ferreting into subpoenaed records, uncovered sensational facts about the lobbying activities and profits of various concerns. The Du Pont company's earnings, for example, had soared from $5 million in 1914 to $82 million in 1916. The Nye report convinced millions of citizens that the bankers who had lent the Allies money and the "merchants of death" who had sold them arms had tricked the country into war and that the "mistake" of 1917 must never be repeated.
These developments led in 1935 to what the historian Robert A. Divine has called the "triumph of isolation." The danger of another world war mounted steadily as Germany, Italy, and Japan repeatedly resorted to force to achieve their expansionist aims. In March 1935, Hitler instituted universal military training. In May, Mussolini massed troops in Italian Somaliland, using a trivial border clash as pretext for threatening the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia.
Congress responded by passing the Neutrality Act of 1935, which forbade the sale of munitions to all belligerents whenever the president should proclaim that a state of war existed. Americans who took passage on belligerent ships after such a proclamation had been issued would do so at their own risk. Roosevelt would have preferred a discretionary embargo or no new legislation at all, but he dared not arouse the ire of the isolationists by vetoing the bill.
The next summer, civil war broke out in Spain. The rebels, led by General Francisco Franco and strongly backed by Italy and Germany, sought to overthrow the somewhat leftist Spanish Republic. Here, clearly, was a clash between democracy and fascism, and the neutrality laws did not apply to civil wars. However, Roosevelt now became more fearful of involvement than some isolationists. He was afraid that American interference might cause the conflict in Spain to become a global war, and he was wary of antagonizing the substantial number of American Catholics who were sympathetic to the Franco regime. At his urging Congress passed another neutrality act broadening the arms embargo to cover civil wars.
Isolationism now reached its peak. A public opinion poll revealed in March 1937 that 94 percent of the people thought American policy should be directed at keeping out of all foreign wars rather than trying to prevent wars from breaking out. In April, Congress passed still another neutrality law. It continued the embargo on munitions and loans, forbade Americans to travel on belligerent ships, and gave the president discretionary authority to place the sale of other goods to belligerents on a cash-and carry basis. In theory this would preserve the nation's profitable foreign trade without the risk of war; in fact it played into the hands of the aggressors. While German planes and cannons were turning the tide in Spain, the United States was denying the hard-pressed Spanish loyalists even a case of cartridges. The New York Herald Tribune pointed out that the neutrality legislation was literally reactionary--designed to keep the United States out of the war 1914-1918, not the conflict looming on the horizon. The American people, like wild creatures before a forest fire, were rushing in blind panic from the conflagration.
War Again in Europe
There were limits beyond which Americans would not go. In July 1937, Japan again attacked China, pressing ahead on a broad front. Roosevelt believed that invoking the neutrality law would only help the well-armed Japanese. Taking advantage of the fact that neither side had formally declared war, he allowed the shipment of arms and supplies to both sides.
Then, in October, he proposed a "quarantine" of nations that were "creating a state of international anarchy." But his speech provoked a windy burst of isolationist rhetoric that forced him to back down. "It's a terrible thing," he said, "to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead-and to find no one there."
Roosevelt came gradually to the conclusion that resisting aggression was more important than keeping out of war, but when he did, his fear of the isolationists led him at times to be less than candid in his public statements. Hitler's annexation of Austria in March 1938 caused him deep concern. The Nazis' vicious anti-Semitism had caused many of Germany's 500,000 Jewish citizens to seek refuge abroad. Now 190,000 Austrian Jews were under Nazi control. When Roosevelt learned that the Germans were burning synagogues, expelling Jewish children from schools, and otherwise mistreating innocent people, he said that he "could scarcely believe that such things could occur." But public opinion opposed changing the immigration law so that more refugees could be admitted, and the president did nothing.
In September 1938, Hitler forced Czechoslovakia to cede the German-speaking Sudetenland region to the Reich. Roosevelt failed again to speak out, but when the Nazis seized the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Roosevelt called for "methods short of war" to demonstrate America's determination to check the fascists.
In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact, prelude to their joint assault on Poland, which began on September 1. This at last provoked Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Roosevelt immediately summoned Congress into special session and again asked for repeal of the arms embargo. In November, in a vote that followed party fines closely, the Democratic majority pushed through a law permitting the sale of arms and other contraband on a cash-and-carry basis. American vessels were forbidden to carry any products to the belligerents. Since the Allies controlled the seas, cash-and-carry gave them a tremendous advantage.
The German attack on Poland effected a basic change in American public opinion. Keeping out of the war remained an almost universal hope, but preventing a Nazi victory became the ultimate, if not always conscious, objective. In Roosevelt's case it was perfectly conscious. But he moved slowly, responding to rather than directing the course of events.
Cash-and-carry did not stop the Nazis. Poland fell in less than a month; then, after a winter lull that cynics called the "phony war," between April 9 and June 22, 1940, the Germans taught the world the awful meaning of Blitzktieg: "lightning war." Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France were successively overwhelmed. The British army, pinned against the sea at Dunkirk, saved itself from annihilation only by fleeing across the English Channel. After the French submitted to his harsh terms on June 22, Hitler controlled nearly all of western Europe.
Roosevelt responded to these disasters in a number of ways. In the fall of 1939, reacting to warnings from Albert Einstein and other scientists that the Germans were trying to develop atomic weapons, he committed federal funds to a top secret program to build an atomic bomb. Without legal authority, he authorized the sale of surplus government arms to Britain and France. When Italy entered the war and invaded France, Roosevelt called the attack a stab in the back. To strengthen national unity, he name Henry L. Stimson secretary of war* and another Republican, Frank Knox, secretary of the navy.
After the fall of France, Hitler attempted to bomb and starve the British into submission. The epic air battles over England during the summer of 1940 ended in a decisive defeat for the Nazis, but the Royal Navy, which had only about 100 destroyers, could not control German submarine attacks on shipping. Far more destroyers were needed. In this desperate hour, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had replaced Chamberlain in May 1940, asked Roosevelt for 50 old American destroyers to fill the gap.
The navy had 240 destroyers in commission and more than 50 under construction. But direct loan or sale of the vessels would have violated both international and American laws. Roosevelt therefore arranged to "trade" the destroyers for six British naval bases in the Caribbean. In addition, Great Britain leased bases in Bermuda and Newfoundland to the United States.
The destroyers-for-bases deal was one of Roosevelt's most masterful achievements. It helped Great Britain, and at the same time it circumvented isolationist prejudices, since the president could present it as a shrewd bargain that bolstered America's defenses. A string of island bastions in the Atlantic was more valuable than 50 old destroyers.
Lines were hardening throughout the world. In September 1940, Congress enacted the first peacetime draft in American history. Some 1.2 million draftees were summoned for one year of service, and 800,000 reservists were called to active duty. That same month Japan signed a mutual-assistance pact with Germany and Italy, thus turning the struggle into a global war.
A Third Term for FDR
In the midst of these events, the 1940 presidential election took place. Why Roosevelt decided to run for a third term is much-debated question. Partisanship had something to do with it, for no other Democrat seemed so likely to carry the country. Nor would the president have been human had he not been tempted to hold on to power, especially in such critical times. His conviction that no one else could keep a rein on the isolationists was probably decisive. Vice-president Garner, who had become disenchanted with Roosevelt and the New Deal, did not seek a third term; at Roosevelt's urging, the Democratic convention nominated Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace to replace him.
The leading Republican candidates were Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, son of the former president, and District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey of New York, who had won fame as a "racket buster." But Taft was extremely conservative and lacking in political glamour, and Dewey, barely 38, seemed too young and inexperienced. Instead the Republicans nominated the darkest of dark horses, Wendell L. Willkie of Indiana, the utility magnate who had led the fight against the TVA in 1933.
Despite his political inexperience, Willkie made an appealing candidate. An energetic and openhearted man with a rough-hewn rural manner (one Democrat called him "a simple, barefoot Wall Street lawyer"), he won wide support in farm districts. Willkie had difficulty, however, finding issues on which to oppose Roosevelt. Good times were at last returning. The New Deal reforms were too popular and too much in line with his own thinking to invite attack. He believed as strongly as the president that America could no longer ignore the Nazi threat.
While rejecting the isolationist position, Willkie charged that Roosevelt intended to get the United States into the war. Roosevelt retorted (disingenuously, since he knew he was not a free agent in the situation), "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." In November, Roosevelt carried the country handily. The popular vote was 27 million to 22 million, the electoral count 449 to 82.
The Undeclared War
The election encouraged Roosevelt to act more boldly. When Prime Minister Churchill informed him that Great Britain was rapidly exhausting its financial resources, he decided at once to provide the British
with whatever they needed. Since lending them money was certain to evoke memories of the vexatious war debt controversies, Roosevelt devised the lend-lease program, one of his most ingenious and imaginative creations.
First he delivered a fireside chat that stressed the dangers that a German victory would create for America. Aiding Britain should be looked at as a form of self-defense. "As planes and ships and guns and shells are produced," he said, American defense experts would decide "how much shall be sent abroad and how much shall remain at home." In January 1941 he asked Congress for $7 billion for war materials that the president could sell, lend, lease, exchange, or transfer to any country whose defense he deemed vital to that of the United States. After two months of debate, Congress gave him what he had asked for.
Roosevelt did not minimize the dangers involved. Yet his mastery of practical politics was never more in evidence. To counter Irish-American prejudices against the English, he pointed out that Ireland would surely fall under Nazi domination if Hitler won the war. He coupled his demand for heavy military expenditures with his enunciation of the idealistic "Four Freedoms"-freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear-for which, he said, the war was being fought.
After the enactment of lend-lease, the American navy began to patrol the North Atlantic, shadowing German submarines and radioing their locations to British warships and planes. In May the president declared a state of unlimited national emergency. After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June, Roosevelt moved slowly, for anti-Soviet feeling in the United States was intense, but in November $1 billion in lend-lease aid was put at the disposal of the Soviets.
Meanwhile, the draft law was extended in August-by the margin of a single vote in the House of Representatives. In September the German submarine U-652 fired a torpedo at the U.S. destroyer Greer in the North Atlantic. The Greer, which had provoked the attack by tracking U-652 and flashing its position to a British plane, avoided the torpedo and dropped 19 depth charges in an effort to sink the submarine.
Roosevelt (nothing he ever did provided more ammunition for his critics) announced that the Greer had been innocently "carrying mail to Iceland." He called the U-boats "the rattlesnakes of the Atlantic" and ordered the navy to "shoot on sight" any German craft in the waters south and west of Iceland. After the Germans sank the U.S. destroyer Reuben
James on October 30, Congress voted to allow the arming of American merchant ships and to permit them to carry cargoes to Allied ports. For all practical purposes, though not yet officially, the United States had gone to war.