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Imagine for a moment, waking up one day to find yourself on a
dirty floor, a pile of rags, or maybe even the street. You look down at
yourself to find you're wearing the same clothes you wore yesterday,
except they are completely filthy and have lots of
holes in places like the knees and elbows. You have no access to a
mirror to show you what you look like so you go to touch you hair with
your hand and find it to be a pile of grease and dirt that obviously
hasn't been washed in days, maybe even weeks.
You get up and start to head for work, or school, only to realize you
have no place to go. The pain of hunger eats away at you, but you just
ignore it knowing that there is nothing for you to eat and you have no
money to buy any food. You have no job, no money, no family, no hope.
Welcome to the Depression.
The 1920's was a time of great prosperity in the lives of most
Americans and our natural human ignorance made us think it would stay that
way forever. We had just come out of the Great War and business was
booming, along with agriculture and the stock m arket. The outlook for
the future was great, but people failed to understand that economies can't
be on the upswing forever, it has to come down sometime. All of the signs
of a depression were there; the farmers were producing too much, the
uneven distr ibution of income, easy credit/huge debts, imbalance of
foreign trade; people just didn't notice them. Not until October 29,
1929--BLACK TUESDAY--anyway, when the bottom of the stock market fell out,
taking millions of American lives with it. Even thoug h any didn't admit
it, they knew what was on the way. People who had been buying stocks on
margin (10% down) suddenly found themselves penniless and in bigger debt
than they could imagine. America went into a panic, pulling money out of
banks in a frenz y causing many to close their doors.
President Hoover tried hard to make the times better for the
unemployed first by setting aside almost $800 million for public works
like the now Hoover Dam. Conditions, however, failed to improve. His
other policies, the Reconstruction Finance Corporat ion (RFC) and the Home
Loan Bank Act, also didn't make much difference. The election of 1932
made it clear that the American people were unhappy with Hoover.
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Delano Roosevelt won the election on the Democratic ticket by a landslide.
His promis e of "a new deal" gave Americans hope for what he could do for
them. Two days after his inauguration he ordered a 'bank holiday' for all
the banks in the country to close. When they reopened, people felt more
safe putting their money in banks with the go vernment backing them up.
FDR's "New Deal" became what started the nation's turn around. With such
programs as the CCC (employing single males from the ages of 17-28 to do
community labor like road building), the FERA (used $250 million to aid
the unemp loyed, elderly, and sick), the AAA (paid farmers to grow less),
the NIRA (set up price controls), the WPA (creating as many job as
possible), and others, Franklin Roosevelt became one of the most
successful leader this country has ever had. Throughout h is Presidency,
he almost single-handedly changed the fate of America. He turned this
country around so we could be a great nation again.
If you were to ask someone who lived through the Great Depression,
as it came to be called, what it was like, their answer would probably not
be a positive one. But even through immense tragedy, good still found a
way to shine through. The Depression g ave us the chance to redefine what
America stood for. The government now had the power to help people in
need, and in return people had more trust in the government because they
knew it would support them. The position of minorities improved somewhat
be cause the New Deal relief measures were essentially color blind, and
gave non-whites a small but significant chance. Women also made their way
into the workforce during and after the Depression.
America, as I see it, is a country of greatness. Out of a Great
War, into a Great Depression, and onto a great recovery. My only hope is
that we continue this tradition in the future and not let the mistakes our
ancestors made hurt us again.