Election of 1932: A Long Conservative Period in U.S. Politics Ends
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
President Herbert Hoover worked hard to rescue the American economy following the crash of the stock market in October 1929. Within one month, he called the nation's business leaders to the White House. "Don't lower wages," the president told them.
Hoover called on the Federal Reserve Bank to make it easier for businesses to borrow money. He tried to provide funds to help farmers get fair prices for their crops. He pushed Congress to lower personal taxes. And above all, the president urged Americans not to lose hope in their economy or in themselves.
But it was no use. The economy was in ruins, falling faster with each passing day. The value of stocks had collapsed. Millions of workers lost their jobs. The level of industrial production in the country was less than half what it had been before the stock market crash.
Hoover's efforts were not enough to stop the growing crisis. In ever greater numbers, people called on the president to increase federal spending and provide jobs for citizens out of work.
But the president was a conservative Republican. He did not think it was the responsibility of the federal government to provide relief for poor Americans. And he thought it was wrong to increase spending above the amount of money that the government received in taxes.
The situation seemed out of control. The nation's government and business leaders appeared to have no idea how to save the dollar and put people back to work. Although Hoover did more than most presidents before him, he was not willing to take the severe actions that many Americans felt were needed.
Hoover would spend government money to help farmers buy seeds and fertilizers. But he refused to give wheat to unemployed workers who were hungry.
He created an emergency committee to study the unemployment problem. But he would not launch government programs to create jobs. Hoover called on Americans to help their friends in need. But he resisted calls to spend federal funds for major relief programs to help the millions of Americans facing disaster.
Leaders of the Democratic Party made the most of the situation. They accused the president of not caring about the common man. They said Hoover was willing to spend money to feed starving cattle for businessmen, but not to feed poor children.
Hoover tried to show the nation that he was dealing with the crisis. He worked with the Congress to try to save the banks and to keep the dollar tied to the value of gold. He tried hard to balance the federal budget. And he told the American public that it was not the responsibility of the national government to solve all their problems.
Late in 1931, Hoover appointed a new committee on unemployment. He named Walter Gifford, the chief of the large American Telephone and Telegraph company, to be its head. Gifford did Hoover more harm than good.
When he appeared before Congress, Gifford was unable to defend Hoover's position that relief was the responsibility of local governments and private giving. He admitted that he did not know how many people were out of work. He did not know how many of them needed help. How much help they needed. Or how much money local governments could raise.
The situation grew worse. And some Americans began to lose faith in their government completely. They looked to groups with extreme political ideas to provide answers. Some Americans joined the Communist Party. Others helped elect state leaders with extreme political ideas. And in growing numbers, people began to turn to hatred and violence.
However, most Americans remained loyal to traditional values even as conditions grew steadily worse. They looked ahead to 1932, when they would have a chance to vote for a new president.
Leaders of the Democratic Party felt they had an excellent chance to capture the White House in the election. And their hopes increased when the Republicans re-nominated President Hoover and Vice President Charles Curtis in the summer of 1932.
For this reason, competition was fierce for the democratic presidential nomination. The top candidate was Franklin Roosevelt, the governor of New York state.
Roosevelt had been re-elected to that office just two years before by a large vote. He came from a rich and famous family, but was seen as a friend of the common man. Roosevelt was conservative in his economic thinking. But he was a progressive in his opinion that government should be active in helping citizens. He had suffered polio and could not walk. But he seemed to enjoy his life and his work.
Roosevelt's two main opponents were Al Smith and John Garner. Smith had been the governor of New York before Roosevelt. Garner, a Texan, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Together, they hoped to block Roosevelt's nomination. And they succeeded the first three times the delegates voted at the Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Roosevelt's chief political adviser, James Farley, worked hard to find Roosevelt the votes he needed at the convention. Finally, Farley found a solution.
He made a deal with supporters of John Garner. Roosevelt would make Garner the vice presidential nominee if Garner's forces voted to make Roosevelt the presidential nominee. Garner agreed. And on the next vote, the Democratic delegates nominated Franklin Roosevelt to be their presidential candidate. Al Smith was so angry about the deal that he left Chicago without congratulating Roosevelt.
Roosevelt wanted to show the nation that he was the kind of man to take action. That he had more imagination than Hoover. So he broke tradition and flew to Chicago. It was the first time a candidate had ever appeared at a convention to accept a nomination. And Roosevelt told the cheering crowd that together they would defeat Hoover.
The main issue in the campaign of 1932 was the economy. President Hoover defended his policies. Roosevelt and the Democrats attacked the administration for not taking enough action.
Roosevelt knew that most Americans were unhappy with the Hoover administration. So his plan during the campaign was to let Hoover defeat himself. He avoided saying anything that might make groups of voters think he was too extreme. But Roosevelt did make clear that he would move the federal government into action to help people suffering from the economic crisis.
He said he was for a balanced federal budget. But he said the government must be willing to spend extra money to prevent people from starving.
Americans liked what they heard from Franklin Roosevelt. He seemed strong. He enjoyed life. And Roosevelt seemed willing to try new ideas, to experiment with government.
Hoover attacked Roosevelt bitterly during the campaign. He warned that Roosevelt and the Democrats would destroy the American system. But Americans were tired of Hoover. They thought he was too serious, too afraid of change, too friendly with business leaders instead of the working man. Most of all, they blamed Hoover for the hard times of the Depression.
On election day, Americans voted in huge numbers for Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats. Roosevelt won forty-two of the forty-eight states. The Democrats also gained a large majority in both houses of Congress.
The election ended twelve years of Republican rule in the White House. It also marked the passing of a long conservative period in American political life.
Franklin Roosevelt would become one of the strongest and most progressive presidents in the nation's history. He would serve longer than any other president, changing the face of America's political and economic systems.
We will take a look at the beginning of his administration in our next program.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators have been Harry Monroe and Warren Scheer. Our program was written by David Jarmul.