|This Week in History
February 28-March 6, 1933
FDR Begins His Hundred Days Of Legislation to Save the Nation
Seventy-two years ago this week, on March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States and called for the Congress to meet in extraordinary session on March 5. On March 6, the President addressed the Governors' Conference at the White House, and that same day, issued a proclamation declaring a bank holiday until March 9. This was the beginning of the legislative "Hundred Days" which would establish policies and programs to rescue America from an ever-deepening Depression and from the looming threat of fascism.
Looking back, in 1937, on what had been accomplished during that emergency Congressional session, President Roosevelt wrote an account of his thinking on the crisis which then faced the nation, and the philosophy which shaped the programs which were translated into legislation. He began his account by citing not only the material crisis in banking, industry, and farming, but also the crisis in the spirit and morale of the American people. This crisis carried within it a grave danger, for "their confidence and morale were so shaken that many of them would have been willing to accept any form of specious glittering guarantee of a chance to earn a livelihood."
"This attitude of hopelessness was aggravated by the recognized failure of the Federal Government to assume any practical leadership, to hold out any prospect of immediate help for the present or any hope for a more secure future.
"In the face of this crisis in national morale, no remedy which stopped short of correcting the immediate material illness of the moment could be a safe or permanent cure. A temporary revival of a sense of physical security would be insufficient. Action was necessary to remove the sore spots which had crept into our economic system, if we were to keep the system of private property for the future.
"That simple truth was not recognized by some people. In fact, a great many who were thinking of future national welfare in terms of immediate dollars began to protest within only a few weeks after the banking crisis of March 4, 1933, against our efforts to couple reform with recovery. In their selfish shortsightedness they were deluded into the belief that material recovery for the moment was all the Nation needed for the long pull.
"These few did not realize how childish and unrealistic it was to speak of recovery first and reconstruction afterward. The process of recovery by its very nature required us to remove the destructive influences of the past. To attain the goal of the greater good for the greater number with any degree of permanence, the old abuses had to be uprooted so that they could not readily grow again.
"From the first day of my Administration, permanent security was just as much in the front of our minds as the temporary bolstering of banks, the furnishing of immediate jobs, and the increase of direct purchasing power. Even in the spring of 1932, I had come definitely to that conclusion. It was the result of trying to think things through during many years; it was the result of observations of what the country had gone through during the days of false prosperity after the World War and the days of darkness after the panic of 1929; and it was the result especially of my experience as Governor during four difficult years.
"On the occasion of the all-night session of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in 1932, I was at the Executive Mansion in Albany with my family and a few friends. While I had not yet been nominated, my name was still in the lead among the various candidates. Because I intended, if nominated, to make an immediate speech of acceptance at the Convention itself in order to get the campaign quickly under way, we discussed what I should say in such a speech. From that discussion and our desire to epitomize the immediate needs of the Nation came the phrase a 'New Deal,' which was used first in that acceptance speech and which has very aptly become the popular expression to describe the major objectives of the Administration.
"The word 'Deal' implied that the Government itself was going to use affirmative action to bring about its avowed objectives rather than stand by and hope that general economic laws alone would attain them. The word 'New' implied that a new order of things designed to benefit the great mass of our farmers, workers and business men would replace the old order of special privilege in a Nation which was completely and thoroughly disgusted with the existing dispensation.
"The New Deal was fundamentally intended as a modern expression of ideals set forth one hundred and fifty years ago in the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States'a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense, the general welfare and the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.' But we were not to be content with merely hoping for these ideals. We were to use the instrumentalities and powers of Government actively to fight for them.
"All through the spring and summer of 1933, when the many measures adopted by the Special Session of the seventy-third Congress were just beginning to be effective, a vocal minority had already begun to cry out that reform should be placed on a shelf and not taken down until after recovery had progressed. This same vocal minority, four years later, when recovery is well under way, still obstructs with all its power reforms now too long delayed, refusing still to realize that recovery and reform must be permanent partners in permanent well-being.
"It irked some people in 1933 that at the Special Session of the Congress'the famous Hundred Days'so many activities were begun at the same time. They would have been more content if Government had restricted itself at that time to saving the banks which were closing, to saving the large financial and industrial organizations, many of which were faltering, and to bailing out the railroads and other huge corporations which needed money to save them from bankruptcy. For in spite of the lessons of 1931 and 1932, they still were willing to believe that this kind of help by Government to those at the top of the financial and business structure of the country would trickle down and ultimately save all.
"Here again, examination and reexamination of all the aspects of the national problem led inevitably to the conclusion that a mere rescue of organizations of wealth at the top would be no solution. Obviously the remedies had to cover a far wider field; they had to include every phase of economic life throughout the Nationat the bottom of the structure, in the middle, and at the top....
"For underlying all of the immediately effective provisions of these laws and all the activities of the agencies under them, was the ever-directing purpose of permanence of objectives. Briefly, the objectives were, have always been, and still are:
"A chance for men and women to work in industry at decent wages and reasonable hours; or to engage in farming at a decent return.
"A chance to keep savings in banks safe from the speculative use of other peoples money; and to make investments without danger of deception or fraud by greedy promoters and speculators.
"A chance for adequate recreation, better housing and sounder health.
"A chance to make reasonable profit in business protected against monopolies and unfair competition, but organized so as to provide fair prices for the consuming public.
"Planning and use of natural resources for the benefit of the average men and women.
"Security against the hardships of old age.
"Security against unexpected or seasonal unemployment.
"Security against new as well as old types of criminals.
"Security against war.
The task of reconstruction which we undertook in 1933 did not call for the creation of strange values. It was rather finding the way again to old, but somewhat forgotten, ideals and values. Though the methods and means and details may have been in some instances new, the objectives were as permanent and as old as human nature itself.
That so many of our purposes could be put in process of fulfillment in the year 1933 is a tribute to the ability of democracy to recognize a crisis and to act with sufficient speed to meet it. A Nation of citizens, as well as the Congress and the Executive branch of the Government, quickly understood the problems and the answer. We did not have to revert to the autocracy of a century ago, as did less hopeful countries where the ways of democracy were not so old and tried."