Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Presidency

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Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Presidency

Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought hope as he promised prompt, vigorous action, and asserted in his Inaugural Address, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Despite an attack of poliomyelitis, which paralyzed his legs in 1921, he was a charismatic optimist whose confidence helped sustain the American people during the strains of economic crisis and world war.

"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people," said Franklin Roosevelt. With that he was elected President in November 1932, to the first of four terms. By March there were 13,000,000 unemployed, and almost every bank was closed. In his first "hundred days," he proposed, and Congress enacted, a sweeping program to bring recovery to business and agriculture, relief to the unemployed and to those in danger of losing farms and homes, and reform, especially through the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The most important reform was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), instituted in 1933. This public corporation built multipurpose dams to control floods and generate cheap hydroelectric power. It manufactured fertilizer, fostered soil conservation, and cooperated with local agencies in social experiments. The TVA reflected Roosevelt's commitment to resource development and his longstanding mistrust of private utilities.

At first, his legislative requests were conservative. He began by securing passage of an emergency banking bill. Instead of nationalizing the banks--as a few reformers wished--it offered aid to private bankers. A few days later the president forced through an Economy Act that cut $400 million from government payments to veterans and $100 million from the salaries of federal employees. This deflationary measure hurt purchasing power. FDR concluded his early program by securing legalization of beer of 3.2% alcoholic content by weight. By the end of 1933, ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution had ended prohibition altogether.

A series of measures took the nation off the gold standard, thereby offering some assistance to debtors and exporters. He also got Congress to appropriate $500 million in federal relief grants to states and local...

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...ing the war he relied too heavily on his charm and personality in the conduct of diplomacy.

Still, Roosevelt's historical reputation is deservedly high. In attacking the Great Depression he did much to develop a partial welfare state in the United States and to make the federal government an agent of social and economic reform. His administration indirectly encouraged the rise of organized labor and greatly invigorated the Democratic party. His foreign policies, while occasionally devious, were shrewd enough to sustain domestic unity and the allied coalition in World War II. Roosevelt was a president of stature.

These early measures displayed Roosevelt's strengths and weaknesses as an economic thinker. On the one hand, he showed that he was flexible, that he would act, and that he would use all his executive powers to secure congressional cooperation. Frequent press conferences, speeches, and fireside chats--and the extraordinary charisma that he displayed on all occasions--instilled a measure of confidence in the people and halted the terrifying slide of 1932 and 1933. These were important achievements that brought him and his party the gratitude of millions of Americans.
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