1933: An Angry Nation Puts Its Hopes in President Roosevelt
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
Americans voted for Democratic candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt in large numbers in the presidential election of 1932. They were tired of the policies of Republican President Herbert Hoover. They thought Hoover had done too little to fight the terrible Economic Depression. And they welcomed Roosevelt's call that the federal government should become more active in helping the common man.
The election brought hope to many Americans in the autumn of 1932.
But Roosevelt did not become president until March 1933, four months after the election. And those months saw the American economy fall to its lowest level in the history of the nation. President Hoover tried to arrange a world economic conference. And he called on President-elect Roosevelt to join him in making conservative statements in support of business.
Roosevelt refused. He did not think it was correct to begin acting like a president until he actually became the head of government. He did not want to tie himself to policies that the voters had just rejected. Congress, controlled by Democrats, also refused to help Hoover.
It was a strange period, a season of uncertainty and anger. The Economic Depression was worse than ever. The lines of people waiting for food were longer than before. Angry mobs of farmers were gathering in the countryside. And the politicians in Washington seemed unable to work together to end the crisis.
Hoover said: "We are at the end of our rope. There is nothing more we can do." And across the country, Americans waited -- worried, uncertain, afraid. What would the new president do?
The new president was fifty-one years old. His family name was well-known to the American public. Theodore Roosevelt -- a distant family member -- had served as one of America's greatest presidents thirty years before.
Franklin Roosevelt was born to a rich and important New York family. He went to the best schools: Groton, Harvard, and Columbia Law School. In 1910, he won election as a Democrat to the New York State Legislature. He showed great intelligence and political understanding as a state senator, and worked hard for other Democratic candidates.
Franklin Roosevelt next served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. And in 1920, he was the Democratic Party's unsuccessful candidate for vice president.
The next year, Roosevelt suffered a personal tragedy. He was sailing during a holiday with his family. Suddenly, his body became cold. He felt severe pain in his back and legs. Doctors came. But the pain got worse. For weeks, Roosevelt was forced to lie on his back.
Finally, doctors discovered that Roosevelt was a victim of the terrible disease poliomyelitis. He lost control of his legs. He would never walk again.
Roosevelt had always been an active man who loved sports. But now he would have to live in a wheelchair. All of his money and fame could not get him back the strength in his legs.
Many Americans thought the illness would end Roosevelt's political dreams. But they were wrong. He showed an inner strength that people had never seen in him before.
Roosevelt ran as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York state in 1928. He won by a small number of votes.
Two years later, the voters of New York re-elected Roosevelt. And they cheered his creative efforts to help citizens of the state who were suffering from the Great Depression.
Franklin Roosevelt always appeared strong and friendly in public. He loved to laugh and enjoy life. But his happy face hid a strong will. Throughout his life, Roosevelt worked to improve life for the common man. And he was willing to use the power of government to do this. He thought the government had the power and responsibility to improve the life of its citizens.
Roosevelt believed deeply in this. But he was less certain about the best way to do it. He believed in action and was willing to experiment with different methods. "The country demands creative experimentation," he said in his presidential campaign of 1932. "Above all, we must try something."
Citizens across the country voted for Roosevelt in large numbers in 1932. They supported his calls for action to end the Depression. But no one was really sure just what this new president from New York -- this man unable to walk -- would really do after he entered the White House.
Inauguration day in 1933 began with clouds and a dark sky. Roosevelt went to church in the morning. And then he drove with President Hoover from the White House to the Capitol. Roosevelt tried to talk with Hoover as they drove. But Hoover said little. He just waved without emotion at the crowd.
The two men arrived at the Capitol building. A huge crowd of people waited. Millions more Americans listened to a radio broadcast of the ceremony. The Chief Justice, Charles Evans Hughes, gave the oath of office to Roosevelt.
And then the nation waited to hear what the new president would say. This is what he said:
"I am sure that my fellow Americans expect me to speak openly and honestly about the present situation of our nation. This is a time to speak the truth, the whole truth. This great nation will survive, as it has survived. It will recover and become rich again.
"So first of all, let me tell you that I believe that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It is this nameless fear which blocks our efforts to move forward. In every dark hour of our nation's history, the people have given their support to honest, active leadership. I firmly believe that you will offer that support now, in these important days."
Roosevelt's words caught the emotions of the crowd. He seemed sure of himself. He promised leadership. His whole style was different from the empty promises of wealth offered earlier by President Hoover.
Roosevelt said that the most important need was to put people back to work. And he said the federal government would have to take an active part in creating jobs. Roosevelt said there were many ways to help the nation recover. But he said it would never be helped just by talking about it. "We must act," he said, "and act quickly."
Roosevelt's face was strong and serious. He told the crowd that all the necessary action was possible under the American system of government. But, he warned that the Congress must cooperate with him to get the nation moving again.
Then, his speech finished, Roosevelt waved to the crowd and smiled. Herbert Hoover shook his hand and left. Roosevelt rode alone through the huge crowds back to the White House. And he immediately began a series of conferences.
Roosevelt's inauguration speech of 1933 was one of the most powerful and important speeches in American history. Roosevelt's speech was like an ocean wave that washes away one period of history and brings in a new one. The president seemed strong. He gave people hope.
The new president promised the American people action. And action came quickly. During the next three months, Roosevelt and the Democrats would pass more major new programs than the nation had seen for many years.
We will look at this beginning of the Roosevelt 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 George Mishler. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.