Executive Intelligence Review
Executive Intelligence Review, May 11, 2001 Internet Edition

More Like Napoleon's 100 Days,
Than FDR's

by Nina Ogden

On April 30, President George W. Bush threw a party for himself in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate his first hundred days in office. But out of the 535 members of Congress who were invited, 342 didn't show up. Most of the Democratic members of Congress spurned Bush's invitation, and many Republican members also did not attend. Rep. John T. Doolittle, a Republican member from California did attend, but left before the luncheon was finished, complaining that the dessert was "nasty."

Any President's first hundred days is measured by those of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, starting at one o'clock in the morning of the first business day after his inauguration, set into motion his New Deal. "The New Deal," Roosevelt wrote, "was fundamentally intended as a modern expression of ideals set up ...in the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States--'a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquillity, 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 to actually fight for them....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 act with sufficient speed to meet it....We did not have to revert to the autocracy of a century ago, as did less hopeful nations where the ways of democracy were not so old and tried."

Asked whether Roosevelt had "celebrated" the end of his first hundred days, Mark Ronovitch, archivist at the FDR library in Hyde Park, New York, replied, "Roosevelt didn't celebrate the first hundred days, he just kept acting on the recovery. But in reference to what you are asking about the current celebrations, I believe it came from a comment of Napoleon's when he was returning from one hundred days in exile."

`The U.S. Wouldn't Have Made It'

If you visit the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you can tour the FDR Memorial, which was just opened in 1997. On any day you visit the Memorial's outdoor galleries, you are likely to see some visitors in their late seventies and eighties, lining up behind a statue of a group of four suffering and dispirited men. Talk to them, and you will not only learn about standing for hours on breadlines. A grandfather in his eighties lining up behind the statue said, "Things were so bad on the farms in Iowa, that people had begun to resort to violence. In many ways, it was even worse in the cities, where almost everyone was out of a job. I'm absolutely sure that if we had not elected Franklin Roosevelt, the United States wouldn't have made it. The nation would have disintegrated."

Frank Morrison, who was the Governor of Nebraska in the 1960s and is now 95 years old, remembered, "My father died when I was a child, and I was raised by my mother who believed in her own earthly Trinity--the U.S. government, the Methodist Church, and the Republican Party. But, after working for almost 40 years, she lost her job, and there was no such thing as unemployment insurance or social security. She lost all her savings when the banks failed. The farms in western Nebraska were blowing away in the dust storms. I graduated from law school in 1931, and, of course, there were no jobs for lawyers--or for anyone else. I turned Democrat and became an ardent New Dealer. The nation was on the verge of revolution."

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her memoirs of a trip she made to the coal-mining area, around Morgantown, West Virginia, to investigate conditions. It was in the autumn of 1933, just a few months after her husband had assumed the Presidency. She wrote, "One story which I brought home from that trip, I recounted at the dinner table one night. In a company house I visited...there were six children in the family, and they acted as though they were afraid of strangers. I noticed a bowl on the table filled with scraps, the kind you or I might give to a dog, and I saw the children, evidently looking for their noon day meal, take a handful out of that bowl and go out munching. That was all they had to eat."

In fact, only 33 days before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's March 4, 1933 inauguration, Adolf Hitler had seized power in Germany. In the United States, one out of every three wage and salary earners was out of work, and there is no way of knowing how many others were employed only a few hours a week. Over 15 million people were officially unemployed. Farm prices had dropped 68% per cent from the already depressed level of 1929. Even John Maynard Keynes, when asked if there had been anything like this depression before, answered, "Yes, it lasted 400 years and was called the Dark Ages."

During President Calvin Coolidge's administration, his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover had become concerned over "the growing tide of speculation." In his memoirs, Hoover said of the speculators, "There are crimes far worse than murder for which men should should be reviled and punished." When Hoover was elected President in 1928, he unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Federal Reserve Board to restrain speculation. The "Bull Market" continued, smashing to a historic high on Sept. 3, 1929.

Although the stock market then faltered and drifted down, each dip was followed by a recovery. Even after the now-famous crash in October, 1929, the popular wisdom was, "Recovery is right around the corner!" Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon said, "Enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people." But Ethelbert Stewart, Hoover's Commissioner of Labor Statistics, reflected Hoover's policy on wages and prices: "Some banks and some bankers are hell-bent to get wages back to the 1913 level," he said. The Depression-era humorist Will Rogers coined the now famous phrase, "trickle-down theory," when he joked about the variety of plans, where "The money was all appropriated for the top, in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy."

The `Alice In Wonderland' Speech

On Aug. 20, 1932, campaigning in Columbus, Ohio, seven weeks after winning the Democratic Party's nomination, then-New York State Gov. Franklin Roosevelt gave his "Alice in Wonderland" speech. The reader of today is left with the eeriest feeling reading his description of the bubble economy: "Even before the election of Mr. Hoover, a terrible race began between the rising tide of bubble fortunes in the stock market...." Gov. Roosevelt said, "Despite huge profits in a handful of large corporations, the fact remained that more than half the corporations in the country were reporting no net income.... Buy more! Owe more! Spend more! This was the program. This caused the deluge of high-pressure selling, lavish extravagance, head-on plunges into debt and yet more debt, and all this ... was the dangerous doctrine called 'the new economics.'

"It was the heyday of promoters, sloganeers, mushroom millionaires, opportunists, adventurers of all kinds.... The American public was apparently elected to the role of our old friend, Alice in Wonderland...peering into a wonderful looking-glass of the wonderful economics.... In August 1928 and the end of that year, the market balloon rose. It did not stop. It went on, up and up, and up for many fantastic months. These were as the figures of a dream. The balloon had reached the economic stratosphere, above the air, where mere men may not survive.

"And then came the crash. The paper profits vanished overnight; the savings pushed into the markets at the peak dwindled to nothing. Only the cold reality remained for the debts that were real; only the magnificently engraved certificates not worth the cost of the artistic scroll work upon them."

"On Inauguration Day, 1933," Roosevelt recalled five years later, "the banks of the United States were all closed, financial transactions had ceased, business and industry had sunk to their lowest levels.... I promised action immediately, stating that if necessary, I would ask for and would use the war powers of the Executive to wage war against the emergency." He immediately acted on a plan which he, with a small staff and that of the outgoing Treasury Department, had privately worked out in the preceding days, proclaiming a national "banking holiday" and a prohibition on gold and silver exports and foreign exchange transactions. He issued the banking holiday proclamation at one o'clock in the morning on March 6, the first business day after his March 4 inauguration, to be continued through the four days ending March 9, which was the date set for an extraordinary session of Congress he had called, by a special proclamation.

Hoover and Roosevelt

Hoover had asked Roosevelt to issue joint proclamations with him, for recovery measures, during the four months between FDR's November 1932, election and the transfer of power. Although a number of Hoover's suggestions were implemented by Roosevelt in his own administration, he would not issue joint public statements with Hoover during the transition, knowing that his own executive direction of the nation's credit authority would be the key to successful recovery. Writing of his discussions with Hoover at the White House in the interregnum, Roosevelt said, "When the whole machinery needs overhauling, I felt it to be insufficient to repair one or two minor parts." He added, "To attack one symptom by weak methods would have impaired the broad attack on a number of fronts that came later."

It is a strange experience for Americans now to look back at some of the cooperation between Hoover and Roosevelt, such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that Hoover was able to set up in the last year of his term of office when he was able to work with a new, strong, Democratic Congressional majority; or, the "bank holiday." Hoover's legacy is neither his interesting international career in mining, nor his relief efforts for the Belgian people during the First World War, nor his moratorium on war debt for the European nations shortly before the crash of the Kreditanstalt bank in Vienna. By the end of Hoover's administration, people living in the shacks of "hobo jungles," called them "Hoovervilles" and empty pockets were called "Hoover pockets." This is what Americans remember. The Great Depression is tied permanently in popular memory with President Hoover.

In a 1932 Boston, Massachussetts campaign speech Roosevelt spoke about the 1921 "President's Conference on Unemployment," which had been chaired by President Warren G. Harding's Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Among the Conference report's proposals were safeguards against too rapid inflation, and consequently too rapid deflation of bank credit, and security against the suffering that might come from unemployment. "A number of experts prepared a highly competent plan," Roosevelt said. But "What we need in Washington is less fact-finding and more thinking.... The present government in Washington stands convicted, not because it did not have the means to plan, but fundamentally because it did not have the will to do."

By the fall of 1931, municipal and private relief programs were bankrupt in virtually every city of the United States. When Sen. Robert Wagner of New York introduced legislation expanding Federal aid, Hoover announced that he "should not approve...the so-called Wagner bill for improvement of public employee agencies.... It is not only changing horses while crossing a stream, but the other horse would not arrive for many months. This situation alone required that legislation be deferred, as it will not help in an emergency, but will do great damage."

Roosevelt later wrote that he "believed that a material recovery could not be established by the same forces which had created the depression.... To us, strong, vital government action was a prerequisite in any program of material recovery."

The first hundred days of his administration found President Roosevelt sending message after message to Congress about new legislation. On March 10, 1933, fifty farm leaders met in Washington and agreed on recommendations for a bill which requested that Roosevelt call upon Congress for the same broad powers to meet the emergency in agriculture, as he had requested for solving the banking crisis. The bill, immediately passed by Congress, was signed by the President on March 12, and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) was set into motion. In the following days, many more of what became known as the "alphabet soup" agencies were created: The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) for rapid public employment, the PWA (Public Works Administration), a broad public works job-creating program, and the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), which Roosevelt proposed as "a corporation clothed with the power of Government but possessed with the the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise...for the development of the Tennessee River drainage basin and its adjoining territory, for the general social and economic welfare of the nation." These were only a representative few of the many Federal acts put into motion in the first few days of the New Deal.

Ending the Open Shop

As he signed the National Industrial Recovery Act on June 16, Roosevelt said, "History will probably record the National Industrial Recovery Act as the most important and far-reaching legislation ever enacted by the American Congress.... Its goal is the assurance of a reasonable profit to industry and living wages to labor with the elimination of the piratical methods and practices which have not only harassed honest business but also contributed to the ills of labor." With that act, and the establishment of the National Labor Relations Board, the rights of labor to organize and to bargain collectively were protected by Federal law for the first time. John L. Lewis, the powerful president of the United Mine Workers of America, the biggest industrial union in the American Federation of Labor (AFL), lost no time in sending out labor organizers out to spread the word at every unorganized "open shop": "The President wants you to join the union!" A North Carolina cotton mill worker was one of the millions who signed up, saying, "Mr. Roosevelt is the only man we ever had in the White House who would understand that my boss is a son-of-a-bitch."

Msgr. Charles Rice, a veteran of the industrial strikes of the 1930s, when he was known as the "Chaplain of the CIO," and now 92 years old, says, "It was Roosevelt, the strength of Roosevelt, who made the difference. After decades of broken strikes, lockouts, vigilante squads, murders and lynchings--Roosevelt made the difference. His wonderful, buoyant voice with its lovely timbre, calling out to everyone over the radio, in his first inaugural address, 'You have nothing to fear but fear itself.' His leadership gave everyone the signal--the courage and protection. So when the sitdowns got started, his commitment to just that fine notion of the general welfare gave the workers courage."

The organizing drive to sign up 35 million unorganized workers began with a punch in the nose. At the 1935 AFL convention, United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis strode across the stage, and within sight of every delegate in the Atlantic City, convention hall, punched the 300-pound William L. Hucheson, President of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, in the nose. Hucheson was the leader of the building trades group which made up the largest element within the AFL. His union had the biggest membership in the building trades group, and does to this day. Hucheson was the most vocal opponent of the growing organizing drive of unorganized workers in basic industry. The membership of the AFL and a few independent unions, mainly of craft workers, were just 10% of the 35 million workers whom Lewis and his allies intended to organize. A meeting was held that night to found a committee within the AFL to organize the unorganized. A month later the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) set up shop.

A great rush of strikes followed the victory of the first big sitdown strike at the Firestone Tire Plant in Akron, Ohio. "The sitdown was a fine idea," Mongsignor Rice remembered, "The giant corporations didn't mind beating up the workers to a bloody pulp, but they didn't want to get their machinery busted up." From September, 1936, to May, 1937, some 485,000 workers engaged in sitdown strikes as high school students, prisoners, waiters, artists and thousands of others sat down. Workers sat down first, then sent out the word that they were striking and joining the CIO. Hundreds of messages came into CIO offices "Send someone over to organize us, we're sitting down."

End to Child Labor

The National Recovery Agency (NRA) brought about the abolition of child labor, the acceptance of Federal regulation of wages and hours, and recognition of the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. The New Deal also ushered in the (now embattled) Social Security Administration. In 1930, Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, had noted that, while Americans had no unemployment insurance or old age pensions, "Most of the civilized countries of the world have undertaken a government-supervised program to alleviate the distress of fluctuating unemployment.... Reckless and deceptive promises that this country would never again have a widespread condition of unemployment have not only not been fulfilled, but broadly speaking, the unemployment situation in the United States is today more serious than at any time since 1893."

Before this New Deal legislation, no Federal agency regulated the number of hours worked in a day or had set a minimum wage. Those who did have work, worked in worsening conditions. In 1930, President Hoover's White House Conference on Child Labor reported that the 1920 census found that 1 million children between the ages of ten and fifteen were employed for wages, and observed that many more children were put into the labor force in the ten years following that census. It was common that women and children would only receive the low wage of $5 a week for full-time work. Since 1866, labor and social welfare advocates had called for an eight-hour work day. As the Depression deepened, conditions worsened for those who still had jobs. Whatever state legislation had been passed, was rapidly overturned in state courts, or was declared null and void by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lyndon LaRouche has often said of Roosevelt's New Deal, that it should be seen as a precedent, and not as a model. Roosevelt himself said, "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 of America: 'A more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.' "

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