THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
The inauguration speech of President Franklin Roosevelt in March, 1933, gave hope to millions of Americans. The new president promised to fight the terrible economic crisis, the Great Depression.
Roosevelt kept his promise. His administration launched into action even before the inauguration ceremonies were finished. As Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, watched the traditional inauguration parade, his assistants began working.
The lights of Washington's federal office buildings burned late that night. And not just on inauguration night, but the next night and the next night, too. The nation was in crisis. There was much work to do.
The first three months of Franklin Roosevelt's administration were an exciting time. Roosevelt led the Congress to pass more important legislation during this short period than most presidents pass during their entire term. These three months are remembered today as "The Hundred Days."
Sunday, March fifth, was the day after the inauguration.
Roosevelt told Congress to begin a special meeting on Thursday. And he ordered all the nation's banks to close until the economy improved. Roosevelt also banned the export of gold.
Congress met on Thursday, as Roosevelt had asked. It passed everything that Roosevelt wanted. Both the House and Senate approved Roosevelt's strong new banking laws in less than eight hours. Roosevelt signed the bills into law the same day.
The next day, Friday, Roosevelt called on Congress to cut federal spending. Once again, Congress met and approved Roosevelt's request immediately.
Two nights later, Roosevelt spoke to the nation in a radio speech. His warm, powerful voice traveled to millions of homes. He gave listeners hope that they could once again trust their banks and political leaders. On Monday, Roosevelt called on Congress to pass laws making it legal to drink wine or beer. And once again, Congress agreed.
Roosevelt's success in passing these important and difficult laws excited the nation. People across the country watched in wonder as the new president fought and won battle after battle.
Washington was filled with activity. The air was full of energy, like a country sky during an electric storm. People from around the country rushed to the capital to urge the administration to support their ideas.
Bankers came by the thousands to win favorable legislation. Experts of all kinds offered new ideas on how to rescue the economy. Ambassadors came from Britain, France, Brazil, Chile, China, and many other countries to speak with Roosevelt on economic and diplomatic issues. And members of the Democratic Party arrived by the thousands to seek jobs in the new administration.
Americans watched closely what was happening in Washington. And they liked what they saw. They had voted for action. Now, Roosevelt was giving them action.
One of the most important areas of action for the new administration was agriculture. American farmers had been hurt more than any other group by the economic depression. The average income of American farmers had dropped in three years from one hundred sixty-two dollars a year to just forty-eight dollars. Farm prices had fallen fifty-five percent. The buying power of the average farmer had dropped by more than half.
Many farmers could not even earn enough money to pay for their tools and seeds.
The main cause of the farmers' problem was that they produced too much. There was too much grain, too much meat, too much cotton. As a result, prices stayed low. The situation was good for people in cities who bought farm products. But it was a disaster for the farmers themselves.
Roosevelt attacked the problem by limiting production. His administration put a new tax on grain products, increasing their price and reducing demand. The administration paid cotton farmers to destroy some of their crops. And it bought and killed five million pigs to reduce the amount of meat on the market.
It was a strange situation. Some Americans had trouble understanding the economic reason why food had to be destroyed so people could have enough to eat. But more officials agreed that this was the only way to limit supply, raise prices, and save farmers.
The plan worked. Production fell rapidly. Hot weather and bad harvests in 1933 and 1934 reduced the amount of grain even more. As a result, prices rose. Farm income increased fifty percent in four years.
The administration also attacked the problem of falling industrial production.
At the time of Roosevelt's inauguration, American industry was producing less than half the goods that it had just four years before. Business owners reacted by cutting costs: lowering wages and reducing the number of workers. This only reduced the number of people with enough money to buy goods. And so production went down further and further.
The administration created a national recovery administration to allow companies to cooperate to increase production. Business owners agreed to follow certain rules, such as limiting the number of hours people could work. They also agreed to raise wages and to stop hiring children. They agreed to improve working conditions and to cooperate with labor unions.
At the same time, Roosevelt created a public works administration to provide jobs to unemployed workers. The federal government put people to work building dams, bridges, water systems, and other major projects.
On money policy, Roosevelt and the Congress decided that the dollar should no longer be tied to the price of gold. They passed a home owner's bill that helped many Americans borrow new money to protect their homes. And a bank insurance bill guaranteed the safety of money that Americans placed in banks, greatly increasing public faith in the banks.
Roosevelt and the Congress created a new civilian conservation corps to put young men to work in rural areas to protect the nation's natural resources. These young men planted trees, improved parks, and protected natural water supplies. They also worked with farmers to develop crops and farming methods to protect soil from wind and rain.
One of Roosevelt's most creative projects was a plan to improve the area around the state of Tennessee in the southeastern part of the country. The Tennessee River Valley area was very poor. Forests were thin, floods common, and income low. Few farms had electricity.
Roosevelt and Congress decided to attack all these problems with a single project. The new Tennessee Valley Administration (authority) built dams, cleared rivers, expanded forests, and provided electricity. It succeeded in helping farmers throughout the area, creating new life and hope.
"The Hundred Days" -- the first three months of the Roosevelt administration -- were a great success. One reporter for the New York Times newspaper observed that the change from President Hoover to President Roosevelt was like a man moving from a slow horse to an airplane. Suddenly, the nation was moving again. There was action everywhere.
Newsman Frederick Allen described the situation this way:
"The difference between Roosevelt's program and the Hoover program was sharp," Allen wrote. "Roosevelt's was not a program of defense, but of attack. In most of the laws, there was a new push for the good of the common man. There was a new effort to build wealth from the bottom up, rather than from the top down." Said Allen: "there was a new willingness to expand the limits of government."
You have been listening to the Special English program THE MAKING OF A NATION. Your reporters were Harry Monroe and Rich Kleinfeldt. Our program was written by David Jarmul.