The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “F*D*R: A Biography: by Ted Morgan from Chapter XIV on page 407 and I quote: “Just as everything was going so well, FDR suffered his first serious setback from the supposedly tame Congress. Perhaps It was a reaction to the tyranny of the Rules Committee, the phone calls from the White House, the party lash. FDR wanted to reduce the veterans’ budget as part of his ongoing economy program for normal expenses, even as emergency expenses were spiraling. For Congress to go along with this was bad politics in an election year. Congressmen had to weigh whether loyalty to the president would cause them to lose the soldier vote. There were poignant outcries that FDR was only adding a new group of sufferers to the country in a time of crisis. Huey Long objected to “authorizing some little 2-by-4, two-bit, job-hunting politician” in the Veterans Administration to decide the amount of compensation.
In response, Congress included a large appropriation for the veterans in an Independent Offices Appropriation Bill. FDR vetoed the bill, but in late March his Democratic majorities divided and Congress overrode the veto. In the House, wrote Harold Ickes, “Man after man, like so many scared rabbits, ran to cover out of fear of the soldier vote.” Thus, even at the height of his power, the president was vulnerable when congressmen were asked to support a measure that would cost them votes back home.
At about this same time, FDR suffered another setback that provided ammunition to those of his enemies who accused him of being dictatorial. A Senate committee headed by Hugo Black had found inequities in the Post Office Department’s awarding of air mail contracts to commercial companies. Without conducting hearings, FDR canceled all the existing contracts in February. Charles Lindbergh, who had been an air mail pilot before his flight to Paris in 1927, sent FDR a telegram on February 11, which he released to the press, charging that he had condemned the airlines without a fair trial.
Within two months, the Army Air Corps, which was flying the mail, suffered twelve fatalities in a series of crashes, and the mail routes were quickly returned to private lines. FDR learned that Lindbergh’s legal adviser, Henry Breckinridge, who had been Wilson’s assistant secretary of war but was now a declared foe of the New Deal, had put the Lone Eagle up to sending the wire, and expressed the hope that” he will begin to cut loose from some of his associates.”
But the harm had been done, and the air mail contracts offered a convenient focus for anti-Roosevelt feelings. One of FDR’s correspondents, W.R. Hutchinson, said he was lunching in a New York City downtown club with a prominent jurist, a staunch Democrat, who said, “The President’s actions in declaring air mail carriers guilty of misdoings without giving them the privilege of a hearing upsets the fundamentals of jurisprudence and smacks of Hitlerism; and the government, in hiding behind its prerogative of refusing permission to be sued, had placed itself in the position of being afraid to allow a just tribunal to decide.”
Sometimes it seemed as though trouble did not come as single spies but in battalions, and FDR summed up the situation to Felix Frankfurter on March 24: “The scattered forces of the opposition seized on the loss of life among the Army flyers to come together and make a concerted driving. For the last three weeks we have been under very heavy bombardment. The steel crowd have shown their teeth, the aviation companies have been shrieking to high heaven, using Chamber of Commerce and every small community with a flying field to demand the return of their contracts, the automobile companies are, at this writing, still trying to flaunt the provisions for collective bargaining, the bigger bankers are still withholding credit at every possible opportunity, the Republican politicians like Fess and Robinson and Fish are denouncing me as a murderer, and the old line press harps increasingly on state socialism and demands the return to the good old days. . . .I am by no means discouraged, though the work during the past month has been just as difficult and the hours just as long as in the days of March and April 1933.”
There were more blows to come. In May, Bill Woodin died, the first fatality of the New Deal. He had been hospitalized in January with throat abscesses. While getting his blood transfusions, he thought of FDR, who had been down into the blackest deepest Valley of the shadows and had emerged with the happiest of souls. His example would pull him out. But it did not, and FDR grieved for a man of generous instincts who had done his duty with loyalty and modesty.
Another loss was budget Director Lewis Douglas, who resigned on August 30 over government spending. The fact that Roosevelt was running a deficit of $6 billion caused him intolerable pain. He saw Communism or Fascism taking over in America unless the monstrous spending stopped. FDR was sorry to lose him, he was useful to have around to check the spenders, but he could not give up relief programs just yet.
In spite of the clotting opposition and the losses due to death and resignation, there were some bright spots. Harry Hopkins’s emergency relief program, the Civil Works Administration, had been a miracle of quick action. Over lunch in October 1933, Hopkins had told FDR that he wanted to put 4 million men to work because Ickes with his public works program was so slow getting started. Hopkins knew that fast action was needed, even if there was some spillage. It was better to move with the nonwasted 90 percent than to avoid the wasted 10 percent. “Let’s see, “ said FDR, “four million people—that means roughly four hundred million dollars.” The money was siphoned away from Ickes, and by January 1934 Hopkins had employed 4,230,000 men on every conceivable kind of project. He had workers building roads and schools, but he also had rabbis on relief rolls writing a Hebrew dictionary.
It had to be done, but FDR was ambivalent about it. He didn’t want to create a class of reliefers and told the National Emergency Council on January 24: “You know, we are getting requests practically to finance the entire United States. There are individuals who want $500 to start raising chickens, and from there up to the corporation that wants to borrow money to meet its payroll; from there on to the railroad that has to refund its bonds coming due; from there up to the municipality that says the wicked banks won’t let us have any money; and from there down to the individual who says he is entitled to work . . . there is the general feeling that it is up to the Government to take care of everybody, financially or otherwise. . . the artists, musicians, painters and brass bands. One brass bank asked to be financed on a trip around the country.” Dan Roper, the secretary of commerce, said that a group of scientists were claiming they could cure cancer “provided they can get sufficient ray power developed. We are asked to laboratory these tests which will cost . . . Probably as much as $250,000.”
FDR told Hopkins to wind down the program, and it ended its brief life in April 1934. “Nobody is going to starve during the warm weather,” he cheerfully predicted. He later told the cabinet that he would not undertake such a program again because the country was not satisfied with it. It made a bad impression on taxpayers to see men raking leaves or mowing grass along the roadside. He wanted the states and localities to take care of their unemployables.
Another bright spot was the enactment of the Securities Exchange Act on June 6. The Securities Act of 1933, passed during the Hundred Days, required new stock issues to be registered with the Federal Trade Commission. This new act provided for federal regulation of the stock market. It established the Securities and Exchange Commission, which could license stock exchanges and make rules, many of which were designed to protect the rights of shareholders. If the company was asking for a proxy for a slate of directors, for instance, it had to show the stockholders whether they were voting for a management that had made or lost money.
Looking for a commission chairman, FDR brought together at the White House on the evening of June 28 Ray Moley, Bernard Baruch, and Joseph P. Kennedy, who had made a fortune on Wall Street. When they started to talk about the commission, Baruch pointed at Kennedy and said, “What’s the matter with that redhead over there?” FDR agreed, giving him the chairmanship and a five-year appointment. Moley was annoyed when Baruch later took credit foe the appointment—it was, he thought, like Michelangelo getting some squirt to polish toes who then claimed he had built the statue.
Harold Ickes wasn’t pleased when he heard the post had gone to a stockmarket plunger. “The President has great confidence in him,” Ickes wrote in his diary, “because he has made his pile, has invested all his money in Government securities, and knows all the tricks of the trade. Apparently he is going on the assumption that Kennedy would now like to make a name for himself for the sake of his family, but I have never known any of these cases to work out as expected.”
In this case, it did. FDR had “set a thief to catch a thief,” and Kennedy became the tough cop with his former cronies, once telling SEC lawyer Milton Katz: “You know, Milt, when you deal with those fellows you know what you’ve gotta do? You’ve got to force their mouths open and go in with a pair of pincers and just take all the gold out of their teeth.” The president liked Kennedy but complained to Morgenthau that “the trouble with Kennedy is you always have to hold his hand. . . .He calls up and says he is hurt because I have not seen him.”
It was slow and patient work, setting in motion these new agencies, hoping you had picked the best men and anticipated some of the foul-ups like Huey Long, who had urged FDR in March to correct the maldistribution of wealth through legislation. “Can you suggest,” the president replied,” any equitable way of segregating the great fortunes owned in this country and gained through the abuse of social ethics, from those which were gleaned by inventive ingenuity or as compensation for honest toil plus good management?”
And yet you could not always help those who needed it most. The proliferation of agencies and bureaucracies sometimes seemed to be setting up barriers. One example that came home to FDR was that of his Poughkeepsie neighbor, the florist and nurseryman Alfred E. Bahret, who wrote the president that he was about to lose his property. He had applied to the Federal Land Bank for relief from mortgage indebtedness but was turned down. He went to the Farm Credit Administration, who advised him to go to the Home Owners Loan Corporation, who said that since he was deriving his living from the soil he should go to the Farm Loan Association. Truly, it was a nightmare. “We are wondering,” Bahret wrote, “whether we are going to be bounced from one department to another until it is too late, as we do not think it is the intention of our government to punish a person and not give him assistance just because he owns a valuable piece of property.”
FDR asked Governor Myer of the Farm Credit Administration to do something for his Dutchess County Neighbor. Myer passed the buck to the Federal Land Bank, where Bahret had first applied, which pointed out that its loans were limited to the Agricultural value of the land, whereas Bahret’s place had a high real estate value. Nonetheless, since the word had come from on high, Bahret got a $7,000, twenty-yer loan.
The lesson was that it was better to do something imperfect than to do nothing. FDR was always getting reports on how to reform this and how to improve that. His uncle Fred Delano sent him a report on the “Perfect Union.” FDR knew there was no such thing. A democracy was the most complicated form of government there was, where decisions were reached through the slow distillation of interests and wills, through the convoluted interplay of three branches of government, where effective leadership was a matter of not getting too far ahead of the pack. He was not an idealogue, and he told his uncle; “I am a bumblebee. I am going to keep on bumbling.”
You could not be an ideologue and govern when within the new Deal itself there were so many conflicting philosophies. The new Deal was more like a series of collisions than a smoothly flowing current. There was the collision between Lewis Douglas, who wanted to balance the budget, and Harry Hopkins, who wanted to spend and didn’t care where the money came from There was the collision between Hopkins, who set up quick make-work programs, and Harold Ickes, who patiently funded lasting public works projects.
But beyond that, in a hundred different ways, government was reaching out a helping hand to the have-nots.. With the midterm congressional election of 1934 coming up, there were many people of modest means who had pictures of FDR in their homes like icons. Not because they liked his looks or admired his voice in the fireside chats, although the benevolent physical projection was not to be neglected, but because millions had been directly assisted by his administration. Leroy Westervelt of Hackensack, New Jersey, a laid-off carpenter about to lose his home, applied under the Home Loan Act and had his mortgage taken over with a two-year exemption on principal so that he paid only interest. He got a job in a local hospital at $18 a week and the following year resumed payment on the principal. He had been on relief only four days, doing roadwork with a pick and shovel. He knew who to thank for having a job and keeping his home.
Small wonder then that the election turned into a plebiscite and that the voters upset the tradition that the party in power is bound to lose seats in an off year. Jim Farley predicted that the Democrats would “hold their own.” Instead, they gained in the House, from 313 to 322. Only once since Martin Van Buren had a president gained support in the lower house in the middle of a presidential term, and that had been under Theodore Roosevelt. In the Senate, where only one-third (or thirty-two) were up for reelection, the Democrats went from fifty-nine to sixty-nine—one of the new senators was Harry S. Truman of Missouri, who recalled the prediction of a friend; at first he would wonder how he got there, but after six months he would wonder how the others had got there.
The percentage of Republicans had never been so low (one-fourth of the House and one-third of the Senate), but out of the ashes of a demoralized party a bitter opposition was already crystallizing, made up of business leaders and newspaper publishers, and joined by disgruntled Democrats. That August the American Liberty League was chartered. And out of the woodwork came the same cast of characters that had tried to prevent FDR’s nomination in 1932—Pierre du Pont, Jouett Shouse, Al Smith, and the Morgan lawyer and 1924 Democratic candidate, John W. Davis.
The growing anti-Roosevelt sentiment took various and at times bizarre forms. At the 1934 outing of the New York Bond Club, held at the Sleepy Hollow Club in Tarrytown, the dart game target was a caricature of FDR. In the Galleries of the Westchester Institute of Fine Arts, also in Tarrytown, there was a painting on exhibit called “The Nightmare of 1934.” eight by four feet, it showed FDR speaking into a row of microphones, a smile on his face and a small crown on his head, with his right hand holding the stand of microphones and his left a fishing line from which dangled a large fish. Eleanor was in an evening gown, wearing a paper crown, a mass of papers dropping from her left hand. On the table in front of FDR were scattered playing cards, all of them deuces. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., sat in the foreground, clad in a clown suit, juggling money, while below him hands reached out beggingly from a pool of water.
On August 31, a housepainter of Latvian descent named John Smiukese flung the contents of a bottle of varnish remover at the painting and touched a match to it. As the canvas burst into flames he ripped it from the wall and completed its demolition. Attracted by the screams of women visitors, police arrested Smiukese and at first charged him with arson, which was later reduced to malicious mischief. Pleading guilty, he was sentenced to six months in the Westchester County jail. Here was a working-class immigrant who had entered one of the lairs of the Republican establishment to protest against a painting that was offensive to the president and the first lady, and who had gone to jail for it. In America, class warfare had some farcical aspects.”
(PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT MADE A GREAT PRESIDENT BECAUSE HE TRIED A LOT OF THINGS USING COMMON SENSE, MAINLY BENEFITING THE WORKING CLASS, WHICH IS SOMETHING GENERALLY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY NEVER DOES. IF IT ISN’T HARDING, COOLIDGE OR HOOVER PROMOTING MORE TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH INDIVIDUALS AND WALL STREET, THAT IS THE OLD TRICKLE-DOWN THEORY THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK FOR THE PARTY BUT SOMETHING THAT THE RICH INDIVIDUALS SEEM TO FAVOR AND HAVE SO MUCH MONEY THAT THEIR CORRUPT MESSAGES NEVER SEEM TO GET OLD FOR THAT PRIVILEDGED CLASS. AFTER ROOSEVELT STRAIGHTENED OUT THE CORRUPT BANKERS AND TAXED THE WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AT A FAIR RATE, THINGS WENT GREAT UNTIL PRESIDENT REAGAN GOT ELECTED AND HE DID SOMETHING ALL REPUBLICANS DO, LOWERED THE INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX FOR HIS WEALTHY FRIENDS AND WENT AFTER THE UNIONS AND THINGS DIDN’T GET ANY BETTER WHEN PRESIDENT GEORGE HW BUSH GOT INTO OFFICE AND THEN THERE WAS EIGHT YEARS OF A RETURN TO A MORE FAIRLY TAXED SYSTEM WHEN BILL CLINTON GOT ELECTED AND DEMOCRATS RAISED THE INCOME TAX FROM 31 PERCENT TO 39.6 PERCENT AND NOT ONE SINGLE REPUBLICAN VOTED FOR IT BECAUSE THE DEMOCRATS HAD ENOUGH OF THE CONGRESS TO DO THE RIGHT THING. SO YOU CAN EASY UNDERSTAND THAT IF WE WOULD HAVE HAD CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND WOULD HAVE KEPT THE GOOD LEGISLATION THAT WAS PASSED BY MOSTLY DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATORS, WE PROBABLY NEVER WOULD HAVE ELECTED REPUBLICAN GEORGE W BUSH, WHO REALY TOOK THE COUNTRY DOWN THE ROAD TO HELL, AT LEAST FOR THE 99 PERCENT, MOSTLY WORKERS BUT NOT THE RICHEST 1 PERCENT, WHO WERE FUNDING HIS CAMPAIGNS. AND ALL OF THESE CLASS WARS HAPPEN AROUND THE WORLD WITH ALL THE DIFFERENT RELIGIONS BEING INVOLVED AS WELL AS MILITARY OVERTHROWS, TRYING TO KILL A DEMOCRACY.
LaVern Isely, Overtaxed Independent Middle Class Taxpayer & Public Citizen & AARP Members