FDR: The Presidency During Crisis


Many years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a remote acquaintance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, observed of Roosevelt, "Second class intellect, but first class temperament!" (Cooper, 1996). Since then, this has become the touchstone of the FDR model of leadership. Both institutionally and interpersonally, FDRís presence was grandiose and inflationary. As a president leading during a period of historical national crisis, Roosevelt proved his competence.


During the campaign of 1932, the Depression was, for obvious reasons, the most pressing issue. Roosevelt campaigned throughout the country on this platform, outlining in relatively general terms a program for recovery and drastic reform that later came to be known as The New Deal. In a series of addresses carefully prepared by a team of professional speech writers, Roosevelt promised aid to farmers, public development of electric power, a balanced budget, and government policing of irresponsible economic power. At one point he declared, "Private economic power is...a public trust as well." (Davis, 1973). His program especially appealed to Western progressives, and to millions who were nominally Republicans. A close friend, Daniel Eldridge referred to Roosevelt as being a "master of responding to public opinion" (Davis, 1973; P. 75).


Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933. Following the election, President Hoover had sought Roosevelt\'s cooperation in stemming the deepening economic crisis that culminated in the closing of banks in several states during February of 1993. Roosevelt however apparently either refused to accept responsibility without the accompanying power or to subscribe to Hoover\'s proposals for reassuring business; somewhat surprisingly, Hoover himself even granted that his proposals would mean "the abandonment of ninety percent of the so-called new deal." (Freidel, 1952).


When Roosevelt took office, most of the country\'s banks were already closed, industrial production was down to fifty-six percent of the 1929 level, 13,000,000 or more people were unemployed, and farmers were quite desperate. Even the congressional leaders were so shaken that, for the time being, they were ready to follow Roosevelt\'s recommendations.


In his inaugural address Roosevelt promised prompt, decisive action and somehow managed to effectively convey to the nation some of his adamant self-confidence. "This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper," he asserted, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." (Freidel). For the moment, people of all political views were reportedly Roosevelt\'s allies, and he acted swiftly to obtain enactment of the most sweeping peacetime legislative program in U.S. history.


Through a vast number of differing measures, Roosevelt first sought quick recovery and then reform of the malfunctions in the economic system that he thought had caused the collapse. He tried to aid each of the main interest groups in the U.S. economy and, at a time when the Democrats were the minority political party, to maintain the support of many who were previously Republicans. Roosevelt\'s choice of Cabinet members indicated his efforts to maintain a consensus; it was geographically and politically diverse, containing both liberal and conservative Democrats, three Republicans, and, for the first time ever, a woman: Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. Reportedly, Perkins described Roosevelt as being a "fair and honest gentlemen with which to work" (Thompson, 1987; pp. 73).


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also directed his legislative program toward a broad constituency. The prelude was the enactment of several conservative measures, to inspire confidence among businessmen and bankers. Rooseveltí first strategic move ended depositors\' runs on banks by closing all banks until Congress, meeting in a special session on March 9, could pass a cautious measure allowing those in a sound condition to re-open. In March of that same year, Roosevelt redeemed one of his most important campaign pledges by introducing a program of drastic government economy. The emergency banking and economy acts brought him the enthusiastic support of an overwhelming proportion of the electorate but, he pointed out at the time, could do little to bring real recovery.


Roosevelt was already preparing, and he soon sent to Congress, a series of messages and draft bills proposing the program that comprised the early New Deal. Roosevelt first obtained from Congress federal funds for the relief of human suffering. Congress established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which granted funds to state relief agencies for direct relief. It also established a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which employed 500,000