Commentary / Glass-Steagall / History

FDR’s Hundred Days, 85th Anniversary: Profound Crises Require Real Leadership

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Book Review by John Ascher

 

Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America,

Adam Cohen

Penguin Press, 2009, 372 pp.

 

April 21, 2018–Outstanding amongst the more recent portrayals of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “100 Days” is the account in Nothing to Fear, the 2009 book by journalist Adam Cohen.

From the early moments of his presidency, with the declared National Bank Holiday, to June 16 and the enactment of Glass-Steagall, FDR uplifted the battered nation and organized more than an economic recovery: He organized a Third American Revolution.

FDR's Hundred Days

FDR Addresses the Nation, in his First Fireside Chat, on the Banking Crisis

 

He attacked all orthodoxy. Not because the President was a narcissist who enjoyed being unpredictable like some overgrown adolescent, but because existing and known approaches had failed, and America had reached the breaking point. No doctrine was considered sacrosanct by the President, only the Promotion of the General Welfare.

Cohen documents in his book that President-Elect Roosevelt came to his inauguration without a prescription for dealing with the broken banking system, which had reached the point of complete collapse. Certain of his trusted advisors, including Raymond Moley, worked through the night of the eve of the inauguration with a team of Hoover Administration officials, led by the Treasury Secretary Ogden Mills. This pairing of two Administrations’ forces happened almost by accident, according to Cohen’s dramatic account. [1]

These members of government mobilized as if in war, putting their nation ahead of political labels or political credit, to forge the steps which were then taken, under FDR’s leadership, to recreate the banking system on a sound footing.

Mislabeling Roosevelt

In our modern trend of deconstruction of history and great American figures, we have seen many different carts puts before the FDR “horse”; many efforts to assign a label, or remove another label, based upon this or that action taken by the President, or on his various speeches.

Was FDR a fiscal conservative? Those who point to the role of Lewis Douglas, FDR’s Budget Director, in organizing aggressive cuts in the early phase of FDR’s government might argue so. But FDR tossed it all out the window.

Was FDR always an inflationist? Ready to throw dollars at the Great Depression? Was he really anti-labor? Was FDR a Jeffersonian, as one heard in his famous Commonwealth Club Speech in 1932, where FDR attacks Hamilton? Or was he really a dictator who seized broad Executive power, even before World War II? Isn’t there some label that will stick?

Correctly, Cohen judges FDR by his overriding humanity, including his extraordinary ability to draw the best qualities out of those around him. But FDR was not only an intuitive political genius. He understood the American System. As pointed out by Arthur Schlesinger[2], when FDR removed the dollar from a strict gold standard, he was moving in the direction of making monetary policy an instrument for the growth of the real economy. That is Hamiltonian, and that is the idea of a credit system. The proof of this is the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and how FDR used that as a Third Bank of the United States.

Cohen also highlights the often “unsung heroes” of the First New Deal. These include Raymond Moley, Rex Tugwell, Frances Perkins, Henry Wallace, Harry Hopkins, and Adolf Berle.

Adam Cohen's Blockbuster Work on FDR's Hundred Days

Adam Cohen’s Blockbuster Work on FDR’s Hundred Days

Finally, he asserts that FDR’s success should be judged by his legacy of the transformation of American government, raising the American System to a higher level of commitment to the rights and betterment of the people.

“..After seventy-five years (now 85-ed.), the principles that emerged during the Hundred Days are still a flashpoint in American politics. At the most basic level, however, the debate had ended. Roosevelt, Perkins, Wallace, Hopkins, and the rest of the New Dealers—like George Washington and the Founders, and Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet and generals, built something that had become an essential part of America.”

Below is appended a list of the hallmark achievements, in the Hundred Days, the first step of FDR’s New Deal.

FDR’s Hundred Days

Saturday, March 4- the Inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt

March 6- Declaration of a National Banking Holiday

March 9- The Emergency Banking Act

Extended the Banking Holiday, and provided authority to reorganize and reopen the banks. FDR also elevated Jesse Jones to Chair of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which was used throughout FDR’s Administration

March 31- Civilian Conservation Corps

Employed 2.5 million people until its close in 1942, building National Parks, and much more

April 19- Left the gold standard

May 12- The Federal Emergency Relief Act

Providing emergency relief; was superceded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Social Security Administration

May 12- The Agricultural Adjustment Act

May 12- Emergency Farm Mortgage Act

May 18- Tennessee Valley Authority Chartered

May 27- The Truth-in- Securities Act

June 13- The Home Owners’ Loan Act

First of a series of New Deal Actions supporting the home owner, followed later by the Federal Housing Authority (1934), and Fannie Mae (1938)

June 16- Farm Credit Act

 

June 16- the National Industrial Recovery Act

Included minimum wage standards, fair labor provisions, and union organizing protection

The Glass-Steagall Act (Banking Act of 1933)

Included was the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)

 

 

 

 

[1] Nothing to Fear, pps 67-70

[2] Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Coming of the New Deal, Houghton Mifflin, 1959

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