THE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS
Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration speech in 1933 was one of optimism; the most quoted line of this speech is “...so first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Within a week of taking office, Roosevelt gave the first of his many fireside chats. During these radio addresses, Roosevelt spoke to the listening audience as if they were part of his family; Roosevelt would usually explain the immediate problems facing the country in these speeches and outline the reasons for his decided solution.
Roosevelt surrounded himself with an able Cabinet, as well as group of unofficial advisors called Roosevelt’s “brain trust.” In dealing with the problems of the Depression, Roosevelt urged his advisors to experiment. Some programs thus failed, some were continually reformed, and several conflicted with each other. The key, insisted Roosevelt, was to “do something.”
During the first hundred days of the Roosevelt administration, countless programs were proposed by the administration and passed by the Congress that attempted to stimulate the American economy and provide relief and jobs. A very popular act, for psychological reasons if nothing else, was the repeal of Prohibition, which was actually voted on by the Congress in February 1933.
Roosevelt’s economic advisor told him that his first priority should be the banking system. On March 5, 1933, he officially closed all banks for four days and had the federal government oversee the inspection of all banks. By March 15 most banks were reopened; this cooling-off period gave people a renewed confidence in the banks, and slowly people started putting back into banks instead of taking it out. The Banking Act of 1933 created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insured the bank deposits of individual citizens.
During the hundred days, large amounts of federal money were handed down to local relief agencies, and a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (led by Harry Hopkins) was also established. Efforts were also made to help people find work. Thousands were hired from funds distributed to states by the Public Works Administration; many schools, highways, and hospitals were built under this program.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was during this period and would eventually employ over 2 1/2 million young men. Under this program forest and conservation programs were undertaken. CCC workers were only paid a small amount (this money was actually sent to their families), but in a period where little work was available, many veterans of CCC programs later perceived the program as a godsend.
Roosevelt considered the bolstering of the industrial sector of the American economy to be a top priority. Falling prices had caused layoffs and the failure of many businesses. The National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA) was established to try to stop falling prices in industry. Under this act committees of both owners and union leaders in each industry would meet to set commonly agreed on prices, wages, working hours, and working expectations. Unions and collective bargaining were accepted in industry as a result of the NIRA. Wages in many industries rose as a result of this; the thinking in the creation of the NIRA was that as wages rose, workers would then buy more, stimulating the economy and stop ping the fall of industrial prices. The goals of this program were largely not met; as wages rose so did prices. As a result, many workers did not buy more, negating any benefit that rising wages were supposed to have.
Another body created by the NIRA was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which was supposed to enforce the decisions of the NIRA. The entire process of the NIRA was declared unconstitutional in the 1935 Supreme Court case Schechter v. United States, although the agency had largely lost its effectiveness by then.
Two other important programs developed during the first hundred days. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) attempted to stop the sharp decline in farm prices by paying farmers not to produce certain crops and livestock. It was hoped that this would cause the prices of these goods to rise. The Tennessee Valiev Authority authorized the construction of a series of dams that would ultimately provide electricity and flood control to those living in the Tennessee River Valley. Thousands who had not had electricity in their homes now did.
The hundred days and the months that followed it provided some relief to those affected by the Depression, but by no means solved the basic economic problems facing the United States. The 1934 midterm congressional elections showed that most Americans favored FDR’s policies, yet even in 1935 some 20 percent of all Americans were still out of work.