Roosevelt came to power during one of the most crucial periods in American history. After twelve years of ‘non-interference’ policies from Republican presidents, Roosevelt was elected to take immediate action against the depression that had crippled America after the Wall Street crash of 1929. Rather than waiting for the economy to work itself out, at once he set about repairing the shattered economy and the broken hope of America.
His first action was to stabilise America’s banks, in an effort to improve confidence in them, and therefore help keep them running. On the 5th of March 1933, only one day after his inauguration, he closed America’s banks, so that government officials could check them over. Four days later, on the 9th of March, 5000 trustworthy banks were reopened, support by government funding if necessary. One of Roosevelt’s advisers, Raymond Moley, said; “The bank rescue of 1933 was probably the turning point of the Depression. When people were able to survive the shock of having all the banks closed, and then see the banks open up again, with their money protected, there began to be confidence. Good times were coming. It marked the revival of hope.”1
Such swift and decisive action would soon become commonplace in Roosevelt’s early presidency. In the early days of his presidency, he was quite bold, making sweeping reforms to the American economy, and setting up organisations to help people survive the depression, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the National Recovery Administration. Such crucial action at a time of great despair for the American people was very popular amongst the voters. Source A is an example of the difference that Roosevelt’s administration could make to peoples lives:
“Dear Mr President,
This is just to tell you that everything is all right now. The man you sent found the house where we live all right. We went down to the bank with him and the mortgage can go on for a while longer. You remember I wrote about losing the furniture too. Well, your man got it back for us. I never heard of a President like you.”2
Roosevelt received between five thousand and eight thousand letters each day, thanking him for the work that his administration was doing to keep America out of poverty.
There is also photographic evidence for such approval. Source B shows President Roosevelt visiting a Civilian Conservation Corps in Virginia, in 1933. As well as being sat at a table with some of his government colleagues, he is surrounded by many of the workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Sources such as this offer us the image that he is truly a man of the people. It is also clear that everyone in the picture is happy, especially Roosevelt himself. This shows that, not only is he a man of the people, but he is at ease with the general public. In this respect, the source is quite useful, despite the fact that it is obviously meant for propaganda purposes.
Source E3 shows us similar traits in Roosevelt: “He was concerned with more than just improving his own position (though he cared very much about that). He wanted to help ordinary people and he expressed their needs in simple language they could understand. In his ‘fireside chats’, his humorous press conferences and his attention to the avalanche of mail that poured into the White House, he projected the image of a man who cared. His air of confidence gave people hope and restored their faith in democracy.” As with sources A and B, it not only shows us that his public image was one of a man who cared deeply, but also one of a man determined to make a difference.
Source C4 is a useful factual source. It shows us the percentage of the American workforce that was unemployed in the years after the Wall Street crash and before the Second World War. Between 1929 and 1933, unemployment rose from 3.2% to 24.9%. In 1933, Roosevelt’s New Deal was put into place, and unemployment immediately began to drop. This was mainly due to the employment schemes that the government set up, which worked on large public projects, such as dams in the Tennessee valley or highways. The bold and sweeping action taken during the hundred days was mainly accountable for this drop in unemployment. This trend continued until 1938, when, after years of republican pressure, Roosevelt cut the New Deal budget. With employment schemes being downsized, the country went back into recession. This is an example of how, despite his earlier reforms, Roosevelt was simply not bold enough. He backed down to the republicans too readily, and withdrew funds too hastily. After the budget cut, it was only the start of the Second World War which stopped the slide back into recession. Cutting the budget was a dangerous and unnecessary move from Roosevelt, which nearly destabilised the American economy once again.
Source D5 shows us the opposite of Sources A, B and E. It shows us an element of the opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal, particularly its more socialist aspects, such as pension and rules about child labour. It shows the reduced size of the American workforce under the new regulations, and the strains that it places on industry. Despite the fact that the figures are obviously doctored, they still serve their purpose, showing us that not everybody agreed with the manner in which Roosevelt rebuilt the economy.
From these sources, we can arguably say that the quote is entirely correct. Roosevelt was bold. His quick action during the hundred days congress session set America back on the path to prosperity, creating new jobs, housing the homeless, and feeding the hungry. The marked change this made to the confidence of the nation was astonishing. However, Roosevelt was, at times, not bold enough. His decision to cut the New Deal budget, under intense pressure from the republicans, was almost a disaster for America. It sent it back into recession, and, had the Second World War not started when it did, things may have turned out very differently for America. Despite the success he enjoyed as President, we can see that, although he did a great deal of good while he was in office, he was not bold enough, or even as bold as he could have afforded to be, with the vast support he was given by the American people.