Excerpted from
“SINCE YESTERDAY: THE 1930s IN AMERICA September 3, 1929–September 3,1939″
by Frederick Lewis Allen

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It began to look as if the job of saving the United States would fall into the willing hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Early in June, 1932, the Republicans held a dull convention with their Old Guard in full control, wrote a dull and verbose platform, and nominated Herbert Hoover for re-election because they had to. Considering what was going on in the world, the general aspect of the Republican deliberations was ichthyosaurian.

When the Democrats went to Chicago for their convention–to a Chicago still reeling from a local panic in which nearly forty banks had gone under and the Dawes bank had been hard hit–Roosevelt had a long lead for the Democratic nomination. For his aides had been doing hard and effective work. Jim Farley–large, amiable, energetic, shrewd in the politics of friendships and favors–had been rushing about the country with glad hand outstretched and had been using to the utmost his incredible capacity for mass production of personal correspondence. He sometimes called in six stenographers at a time, spent eight consecutive hours signing letters in green ink; at night, when safe from interruption, he could sign at the rate of nearly two thousand letters an hour. While Farley commanded the Roosevelt forces in the field, the Roosevelt chief-of-staff was Louis McHenry Howe, a little wizened invalid with protruding eyes and unkempt clothes who worshipped Roosevelt and lived to further his career. Remaining in a shabby office in Madison Avenue, New York, sitting at a desk littered with newspapers and pamphlets, or lying on an old day bed when his chronic asthma exhausted him, Howe studied the political map and gave Farley sage advice. “Louis would sit in front of me in his favorite pose,” writes Farley, “his elbows resting on his knees, and his face cupped in his hands so that practically nothing was visible of his features except his eyes.” A masterly strategist of politics, Howe thought out the plan of campaign.

While these men gathered delegates for Roosevelt, others gathered ideas for him. In March, 1932–the month of the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Kreuger suicide–Roosevelt’s friend and adviser Samuel I. Rosenman had suggested to him that it might be a good idea to get a group of university professors to help him formulate his program; and, when Roosevelt smilingly agreed that it might, Rosenman had invited Professor Raymond Moley of Columbia to dinner and had thrashed the matter out with him over coffee and cigars. Moley had been working with Roosevelt for months on various New York problems and thus naturally became the recruiting officer and unofficial chairman of a group of advisers which included (in addition to Moley and Rosenman) Rexford Guy Tugwell and Adolph A. Berle, Jr., both of Columbia, and Basil O’Connor, Roosevelt’s law partner. Roosevelt at first dubbed the group his “privy council”; in July, James Kieran of the New York Times christened it the “brains trust”; the general public took over this name but inevitably changed the awkward plural into a singular and spoke of the “brain trust.” Members of the group would go to Albany, dine with Governor Roosevelt, talk with vast excitement for hours, and return to New York to study and report on national problems for the candidate and to draft memoranda and rough out speeches for him.

But at first Roosevelt was very cautious in his use of such material or in taking a definite position upon anything. He was handsome, friendly, attractive; he had the smiling magnetism, the agreeable voice which Hoover so dismally lacked; he had not only had political and administrative experience as Governor of New York, but knew Washington as a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy. With Farley and Howe to help him, and with delegates flocking to him because of his political “availability,” all he apparently needed in order to win the nomination–and the election, for that matter–was to exercise his charm, look just conservative enough to fall heir to the votes of Republicans who were sick of Hoover, look just radical enough to keep the rebellious from turning socialist or communist, and not make enemies. So he spoke kindly of “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” but failed to specify exactly how this man should be remembered; he said that “the country demands bold, persistent experimentation” but engaged, in his speeches, chiefly in the sort of experimentation practiced by the chameleon. So gentle was he with the Tammany graft being disclosed by Samuel Seabury, and so tentative was he in expressing economic ideas, that Walter Lippmann warned those Western Democrats who regarded Roosevelt as a courageous progressive and an “enemy of evil influences” that they did not know their man.

“Franklin D. Roosevelt,” wrote Lippmann, “is an amiable man with many philanthropic impulses, but he is not the dangerous enemy of anything. He is too eager to please. . . . Franklin D. Roosevelt is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President.”

On the first ballot for the nomination, taken in the Chicago Stadium in a sweltering all-night session after interminable nominating speeches, Roosevelt already had a majority of the delegates. The only obstacles now remaining were the ancient rule which required a two-thirds vote for the nomination, and the possibility that the opposition forces of John Nance Garner of Texas or of Roosevelt’s former friend and mentor, Al Smith, might be unbreakable. Two more ballots followed without important change as night gave way to day, and at 9:15 on the morning of July 1st the delegates–“stupefied by oratory, brass bands, bad air, perspiration, sleeplessness, and soft drinks,” as Walter Lippmann said–stumbled out of the Stadium into the sunshine with no decision taken.

Only Huey Long, the Louisiana Kingfish, had seemed unwilted during that exhausting night: Heywood Broun saw him dash down to the aisles to soothe a swaying furosemide 40 mg buy online uk delegation, pause to greet a blonde stenographer with “How are you, baby?” and continue energetically on his political errand. When Farley got back to Louis Howe’s room to report, he found Howe lying on the floor in his shirt sleeves, his head on a pillow, two electric fans blowing on him; Farley sprawled on the carpet beside him to confer on the strategy of the hour. The two men decided that Farley should look for Sam Rayburn of Texas and see if the Texas delegation could be persuaded to forsake Garner for Roosevelt, in return for aid in getting Garner the vice-presidential nomination. Farley then dragged himself to Pat Harrison’s rooms in search of Rayburn; and when he found that Rayburn had not yet arrived, Farley sat down to wait and presently was snoring in his chair. Under such conditions do our statesmen make their vital choices.

But soon it was all over. Rayburn arrived at the Harrison suite. He did not commit himself definitely but said, “We’ll see what can be done”; and Farley felt that victory was on the way. That afternoon Garner telephoned from Washington to recommend that his leaders should release their delegations. (What part Hearst, who had been backing Garner, had in this surrender is uncertain.) When that night, the delegates assembled once more, the opposition lines had broken. On the first ballot that night–the fourth for the nomination–Roosevelt was chosen. Garner thereupon got the vice-presidential nomination.

Dramatically, Roosevelt refused to wait weeks for a notification ceremony. Throwing aside tradition, he chartered a plane, flew to Chicago, and made an immediate speech of acceptance promising a “new deal.” (This was the first public appearance of the phrase. Moley, perhaps thinking of Stuart Chase’s book, A New Deal, had used it in a memorandum to Roosevelt six weeks before, and Roosevelt had seized upon it.)

The origin of this acceptance speech was a little drama in itself. For weeks Roosevelt and the Brain Trust had been working on a draft of the address. During the plane trip Roosevelt had made a few last-minute revisions. But at the airport at Chicago he was met by Louis Howe, who thrust another manuscript into his hand. Howe, in Chicago, had been shown a copy of the Brain Trust draft by Moley, had disliked it, and had written a revised version: it was this new version which he was now handing to the nominee. As Roosevelt rode to the Stadium through roaring crowds he had no chance to compare the two documents; not until he was on the platform, facing the Convention, could he lay them side by side. During the cheering he glanced them over. Then he began to speak. The beginning of his address was his faithful Howe’s first page; the rest was the original Brain Trust draft!

Nothing in the speech was as bold as Roosevelt’s flight to make it. “Taking note, apparently, of the charges of straddling that had been flung at him,” wrote Elmer Davis, “he promised to make his position clear; and he did–upon the Prohibition plank [demanding Repeal] which the party had adopted by a vote of five to one. For the rest, you could not quarrel with a single one of his generalities; you seldom can. But what they mean (if anything) is known only to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his God.”

In the speech there were many passages which foreshadowed the subsequent vigorous measures of his Presidency, but they were vague in phrasing. In only one place, where he suggested that a force of unemployed men be put at conservation work, did he seem to have a really novel plan (this was the germ of the CCC). He endorsed some ideas which he was later to forsake, as when he said that government “costs too much” and that the Federal government should set an example of solvency. And he accepted “one hundred per cent” the new Democratic platform: a short specific document which, though it called for financial reforms such as Roosevelt was later to push through Congress, and called also for “control of crop surpluses,” represented in the main an old-fashioned liberalism–a return to the days of small and simple business units and modest and frugal governmental units–and certainly gave no hint of any intention to expand enormously the Federal power.

Events were moving fast in that summer of 1932, ideas were boiling, and counsels were divided. The Democratic candidate was astute: he had less to lose by facing two ways than by standing fast; by talking about candor than by exercising it.

§ 2

Not only were ideas boiling; the country was losing patience with adversity. That instinct of desperate men to rebel which was swelling the radical parties in a dozen Depression-hit countries and was gathering stormily behind Hitler in Germany was working in the United States also. It was anything but unified, it was as yet little organized, and only in scattered places did it assume the customary European shape of communism. It had been slow to develop–partly because Americans had been used to prosperity and had expected it to return automatically, partly because when jobs were vanishing those men who were still employed were too scared to be rebellious, and simply hung on to what they had and waited and hoped. (It is not usually during a collapse that men rebel, but after it.) There had been riots and hunger-marches here and there but on the whole the orderliness of the country had been striking, all things considered. Yet men could not be expected to sit still forever in the expectation that an economic system which they did not understand would right itself. The ferment of dissatisfaction was working in many places and taking many forms, and here and there it was beginning to break sharply through the orderly surface of society.

In the summer of 1932 the city of Washington was to see an exciting example of this ferment–and a spectacular demonstration of how not to deal with it. …


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