The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “F*D*R: A Biography” by Ted Morgan from Chapter XIV on page 374and I quote: “When the ceremony in the senate chamber was over there was a rush for the exit to the ramp leading from the east doors of the Capitol to the inaugural stand. There was Garner in the southwest corner in formal morning clothes, suffering from the chill wind that went straight to the bone. There was [Charles] Curtis in a fur coat, lost in ruminations on a forty-year career in Congress. There was Eleanor and her tall sons, and Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in his long black silk robe and his black silk skullcap. There was Hoover, motionless in a leather-upholstered armchair to the left of the metal lectern that Roosevelt would use, his face set in a permanent expression of resentment.
The ancient Dutch bible that had recorded Roosevelt births and deaths for 263 years was brought up. In the windswept forty acres in front of the Capitol, 100,000 pairs of eyes focused on the ramp where Roosevelt appeared, advancing slowly on the arm of his eldest son, approaching the stand on his useless legs, braces supporting six feet of height. It occurred to radio broadcaster Ed Hill, as it must have to many others, than if this man had the courage to lift himself by the sheer power from the bed of invalidism, had the determination and patience to make himself walk, then he must have within him the qualities to lead a nation to recovery.
A smile crossed his face as he shook Hughes’s hand, and the Marine band in its scarlet jackets and blue trousers finished the last bars of “Hail to the Chief.” Down in front, from their places on the yellow pine benches, men and women, many of them worthy of a chapter or a page in their country’s recent history, were stirred by the moment. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson waved a handkerchief and Bernard Baruch swung his top hat. Was it the bitter northwest wind blowing across the open stands that brought tears to the eyes of Josephus Daniels, or the memory of a long and close association with the man about to take the oath?
His hand rested on the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, that chapter beginning with the words “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity . . I am nothing.” Hughes read the oath with dramatic effect, and Roosevelt repeated it like a bridegroom at the altar: “I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.”
And then, standing bareheaded as the raw wind ruffled his gray hair, and as the apostles of the old order scattered around him drew their coats tighter, Roosevelt gripped the sides of the reading stand and began his inaugural address: “This is a day of national consecration. . . .”
Was it the words alone, or the sense of a man meeting his fate, or the collective understanding that a turning point in history had been reached? Whatever it was, you could sense a galvanic response in the crowd.
“So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” To Frances Perkins, it was like a revival meeting. Roosevelt had seen and understood the spiritual need of all the people who had to be given purpose and direction. Despair was the greatest of sins, the contrary of hope, and Roosevelt was asking “Do you believe?” You could see tears streaming down people’s faces. Sitting next to her, mousey-faced Ray Moley said, “Well, he’s taken the ship of state and turned it right around.”
No everyone was so strongly affected. The writer Edmund Wilson saw Roosevelt as a less forceful heir of Woodrow Wilson’s liberalism, smiling an inhuman Boy Scout smile that made one’s flesh creep. His ideas on currency were derived from the Boy Scout handbook: “All the things you can do with a dollar.” He had the old pulpit vagueness, in phrases such as “in every dark hour of our national life. . . . and yet out distress comes from no failure of substance. . . . Where there is no vision the people perish. . . . . “
But to many of his listeners, and there were millions on the radio hookup, Roosevelt’s words were inspiring, and to some they were alarming. In Toledo, a young British lecturer named Harold Nicolson, giving a talk to a woman’s club in a department store, was competing with a broadcast of the inaugural that brayed out across the ceramic daffodils in the kitchenware department.
His talk over, the woman next to him was describing a peristyle of pure white marble, one of the wonders of Toledo, as he tried to hear the inaugural address. These words came through: “In the event that Congress should fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not then evade the clear course of my duty. . . . “
“You see, Mr. Nicolson,” the woman was saying, “our peristyle is a dream in stone. . . . ‘
“Mrs. Strachey,” Nicolson blurted out, “do you realize that your new President has just proclaimed that he will, if need be, institute a dictatorship?”
“My now, isn’t that interesting?”
Another impression was that of the actress Lillian Gish, who wrote Roosevelt that he seemed “To have been dipped in phosphorus”–he had a kind of incandescence. Whatever it was, it was a welcome contrast to the dour and uncharismatic Hoover, the scapegoat from central casting.
The inaugural address was over, and Tom Beck, the president of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, watched Roosevelt come down from the ramp on his son’s arm, with his cane and top hat in the other hand. Beck noticed that he had picked up his hat in such a way that if he put it on his head it would have the wrong side forward. He could not free both hands to make the adjustment, or give it to Jimmy to right its position, so as he moved down the ramp his left hand worked laboriously on the brim until he had it moved around so he could put it on front forward. This small observation gave Beck an insight into Roosevelt’s tenacity.
The inaugural stand was bare, and from the distance came the high clear notes of cavalry bugles as horsemen wheeled into line around the motorcar of the thirty-second president. Four times in the nation’s brief history a president had overthrown the pride of existing power and made himself the herald of a new era, giving us names indelible in memory: in 1801, Jefferson; in 1829, Jackson; in 1861, Lincoln; and in 1913, Wilson. Roosevelt was gone, but people lingered in the plaza, gazing at the empty stand, kept there by something beyond reason and comprehension.
Normally a day of rest, Sunday, March 5, the first day of the Roosevelt administration, was a working day. FDR convened the cabinet and decided on measures to stop the run on banks and hoarding of gold. He proclaimed a three-day bank holiday and called for a special session of Congress to open March 9. There was so much activity that Harold Ickes confided to his diary that evening that he was “dog tired.”
On March 8, FDR gave his first press conference. One hundred and twenty-five newsmen crowded into the Oval Office and were pleased to find a talking president. He talked about reopening the banks and managing the currency. Gone were Coolidge’s White House spokesman and Hoover’s written questions. Newsmen could recall only one president who had talked as freely—Theodore Roosevelt.
That afternoon, breaking with protocol (had not Hoover told him, “My dear Governor, after you have been here awhile, you will learn that the President of the United States never calls on anyone!”), the president paid a social call. He went to see retired Supreme Court Justice Olive Wendell Holmes at his home, 1720 I Street, on the occasion of his ninety-second birthday. Holmes showed FDR a pair of swords that his grandfather, Charles Jackson, had fought with in the French-Indian wars. “I remember,” Holmes said, “that my governor [father] told me that he was having lunch as a young student and his father came home for lunch with a friend. And the friend said, ‘You know, I saw that little West Indian bastard downtown today,’ referring to Alexander Hamilton.” Such was the brevity of American history that Holmes’s father had been a contemporary of one of the authors of The Federalist. “Well,” said FDR, who for once could not match the tale, my grandmother goes back as far as the Revolutionary War, but not as far as the Indian Wars.”
When it was time to leave, FDR asked, “Have you got any final advice to give me?” “No, Mr. President,” said Holmes, who had fought in the Civil War. “The time I was in retreat, the Army was in retreat in disaster, the order to charge. And that’s exactly you are doing.” When FDR had gone, Holmes told his secretary, Donald Hiss, “You know,, I haven’t seen Frank Roosevelt for years, but this ordeal of his with polio, and also the governorship and the presidency, have made his face much stronger than it was when I knew him.” Holmes also made the oft-repeated remark that the president had a second-class intellect but a first -class temperament, which might more truly have been said of Eleanor than of FDR. Those who worked closely with him recalled that he had an intellect of outstanding range, retentiveness, and subtlety. His mind had the intricate balance of a gyroscope.
On March 9, Congress convened in special session, and that period of machine-gun legislation known as the “Hundred Days” began. For a time, FDR had a Congress that did his bidding. He sent the legislation over and they rubber-stamped it. Roosevelt had a mandate for action. He had majority support in both houses. Of 435 members of the House 150 were impressionable freshmen congressmen, washed in on the tide. The House elected as Speaker the first northern Democrat in more than fifty years, seventy-four-year-old Henry T. Rainey of Illinois.
When the emergency Banking Act was introduced in the House on the first day of the session, rules of procedure had not yet been adopted; committees had not yet been named; the printed bill was not available. There was one copy, which was read by the clerk. Majority Floor Leader Joseph W. Byrns, Jr., introduced the bill, asking that the total time of debate be limited to forty minutes. Minority Floor Leader Bertrand H. Snell asked for Republican support, saying “The house is burning down, and the president of the United States says this is the way to put out the fire.” The bill, a conservative document that gave various forms of government assistance to banks, was passed by House and Senate that day and was sent to the White House and signed that evening.
It was an atmosphere of hysteria, thought House Republican James W. Wadsworth. The bill had not been referred to a standing committee. There had been no minority strategy, and no caucus. Banking was so technical that most of those who voted for the bill did not understand it, not having been given the chance to read it. And this bill, put forth as an emergency measure, would become established as permanent policy. In effect, it took the United States off the gold standard, since the dollar would not be redeemable in gold—holders of gold were ordered to turn it in at Federal Reserve banks at $20.67 an ounce, and the export of gold was forbidden.
Hysteria it may have been, but it worked. There were no new runs on banks, and depositors brought back their money. The Treasury licensed the solvent banks and closed the weak ones. Within a month, seven out of every ten banks were open, with deposits of $31 billion.
Next on the agenda was an economy bill drafted by Budget Director Lewis Douglas, reducing the salaries of federal employees by $100 million and veterans’ benefits by $400 million. This seems curious on the part of an administration whose policy would later be described as “tax and tax, spend and spend, and elect and elect.” But in FDR’s double-entry mind, there would be savings of the ordinary expenses of running the government while millions were spent on emergency measures.
In his message, which reached the House on March 10, FDR warned of the terrifying prospect of a deficit that “will probably exceed one billion dollars unless immediate action is taken.” Since standing committees had not been formed, a special Economy Committee was created to act on the president’s message. This was truly the red-carpet treatment: creating a congressional committee for the passage of a single bill. Floor Leader Byrns introduced a resolution limiting debate to two hours and ruling out amendments. The bill passed in spite of opposition from the veterans’ lobby.
One of its features was a cut in the defense budget from $752 million in 1932 to $531 million in fiscal year 1934. The Army would bear the brunt of the measure, for its appropriation would be cut by about half. Secretary of War George Dern was so alarmed that he went to see the president with Army Chief of Staff Douglass MacArthur.
Dern could make no headway, he was no match for the president. MacArthur broke in, saying that “the country’s safety is at stake.” FDR replied with sarcasm about the need for a large army in peacetime. MacArthur felt the familiar nausea that overcame him in moments of crisis, when he got so wrought up that he could not control the words that came out of his mouth. “When we lose the next war,’”he found himself saying, “and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spits out his last curse, I want the name not to be MacArthur but Roosevelt.”
FDR rarely lost his temper, but his was intolerable. “You must not talk that way to the President,” he roared.
MacArthur apologized, sure that his career was over. Insulting the commander in chief was worthy of a court-martial. He offered his resignation. As he reached the door, he heard a calm voice say: “Don’t be foolish, Douglas; you and the budget must get together on this.” As they left the White House, Dern told MacAuthur happily: “You’ve saved the Army.” Perhaps, but MacArthur had suffered the worst humiliation of his life. He had lost his self-control in front of the president of the United States. He felt like vomiting on the White House steps.
In the meantime, bills originating in the White House were passed almost daily. This was presidential power without precedent—FDR could dream up an idea, something that had never been tried, and set the huge machinery of government in motion to implement it. For instance, he wanted to take the unemployed out into the woods and give them forestry work. Frances Perkins thought that was a pipe dream. What did Roosevelt know about the unemployed? “An awful lot of these people have heart trouble, varicose veins and everything else,” she told him. “Just because they’re unemployed doesn’t mean that they’re natural-born lumbermen.” and who was going to take care of them once they got to the forests? You couldn’t just take men off the breadline and turn them loose in the Adirondacks.
Miss Perkins suggested the use of the Army, which had plenty of trucks, tents, and blankets. George Dern said yes, they had all the equipment, from cots to field kitchens, and they also had a lot of unemployed reserve officers who could be put in charge. Since the program would be operated by the military, it was a bit of Rooseveltian logic to call it the Civilian Conservation Corps.
(PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT, A MAN WITH GREAT INTELLIGENCE, GOT ELECTED, THE FIRST OF FOUR TERMS, HE WAS ELECTED TO SERVE. HE HAD TO TRY SOMETHING NEW AND BOLD, WHICH WAS THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS AND HE HAD TO MAKE IT WORK BECAUSE OF THE SEVERE CONDITION THE COUNTRY WAS IN. IT HAD AS HIGH AS 25 PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT. I’M ALSO OLD ENOUGH TO REMEMBER PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT BECAUSE I’M 79 YEARS OLD AND THE SERIOUSNESS OF WHAT THE PROBLEMS THE REPUBLICANS PUT US THROUGH IN THE TWELVE YEARS THEY WERE IN POWER, WERE SEVERE, SINCE THEY TOOK OVER FROM THE DEMOCRATS WHEN THE COUNTRY WAS IN RELATIVELY GOOD SHAPE WHEN PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON LEFT OFFICE. EVIDENTLY, IF YOU READ HISTORY, YOU’LL SEE THAT IT HAS A HABIT OF REPEATING ITSELF AND THE WORLD HAS THIS PROBLEM OF CIVIL WARS BECAUSE OF THE CONDIDTION OF THE POOR AND THE EXTREME RICH. WE’RE HAVING THESE PROBLEMS WITH THE AMERICANS LIVING WITH ARAB COUNTRIES BUT EVEN ARABS LIVING IN ARAB COUNTRIES. SO YOU CAN EASY SEE WHY IT’S SO ESSENTIAL FOR A DEMOCRACY TO WORK WITH A WELL AND OPEN MEDIA, QUESTIONING THE SYSTEM AT ALL TIMES and IS IT FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL THE PEOPLE?
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members