Today in History Special: November 8th, 1932

November 8th, 1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president of the United States for the first time. Following the Stock Market Crash of October 1929, the Great Depression had set in, and the Hoover administration’s uselessness in dealing with the crisis lost him support. Roosevelt was given the Democratic nomination in 1932, stating that “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” He won the election by a landslide, carrying 42 of the 48 states, including Hoover’s home state of California. Sworn in on March 4th, 1933, Roosevelt told the nation that he planned to use firm governmental action to solve the crisis, and that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Electoral College Map of the 1932 Election.

Electoral College Map of the 1932 Election.

The 1932 congressional elections had given the democrats a majority in the senate and a massive majority in the House of Representatives, so immediately upon assuming the presidency, Roosevelt began to pass a series of bills to alleviate the depression with the help of a Democratic congress. This period is known as the Hundred Days. The government declared a Bank Holiday to prevent further bank runs, which had been endemic, and Roosevelt gave his first Fireside Chat. These addresses, given over radio to the common man, explained to him in simple terms what the government was doing. The first such address concerned the Emergency Bank Act, which allowed the treasury to inspect banks for solvency and grant them federal loans if needed to get them back on their feet. The Glass-Steagell Act followed, which stopped banks from engaging in both commercial and investment banking, and created the FDIC. After this came the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), designed to crate jobs for the unemployed. The same Hundred Days period also saw the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the end of Prohibition through the 21st Constitutional Amendment. After 1934, the Roosevelt administration passed such bills as the Social Security Act, National Labour Relations Act, and the establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed millions of people in public works projects around the country. Following this landmark presidency, Roosevelt was re-elected by a landslide in 1936, and the Democratic Party increased its majority in congress. The second term resulted in the Fair Labour Standards Act, which created the minimum wage, and the Housing Act of 1937 which improved conditions for low-income families.

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When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Roosevelt supported Britain and France, sending them war material through the framework allowed by the Cash-and-Carry policy. Attempting to build support for policies to support Churchill’s Britain, which was fighting for its life after the Fall of France, Roosevelt told the nation in a fireside chat that the United States must be the “Arsenal of Democracy,” and built an increasingly close relationship with Churchill. He was re-elected again in 1940, defeating Indiana Republican Wendell Wilkie. The following year, the Lend-Lease Act was passed, authorising aid to Britain and eventually to the Soviet Union. Churchill and Roosevelt met in person in Newfoundland in March 1941 and drafted the Atlantic Charter, which stated that neither Britain nor the US sought territory after the war, that all people have a right to self-determination, and that the two nations would work together against Want and Fear. Following a complicated series of diplomatic maneuvers, Japan attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Germany followed this by declaring war against the United States, even though the terms of its alliance with Japan did not require it to in this case. Roosevelt spent the rest of the war meeting with Churchill and Stalin to coordinate war strategy and decide upon post-war agreements, and this, after 12 years of being the president (he was elected to a fourth term in 1944), caused his health to fail, and he died of a stroke at Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12th, 1945.

Roosevelt and Churchill together at the meeting which produced the Atlantic Charter.

Roosevelt and Churchill together at the meeting which produced the Atlantic Charter.

The leaders at the Yalta Conference.

The leaders at the Yalta Conference.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt deserves a place in history as certainly the greatest president of the twentieth century, and contends with Lincoln for the title of best ever. His New Deal lifted the US out of the Depression, and set up a new system of governance whereby an administration would [roll] up its sleeves” instead of “twiddling its thumbs,” where the people would be safe from the bankers and stockbrokers, where government would help those in need,  and people could know that when they grew old, or became disabled, they would not become beggars; where government would help people instead of standing indifferent.

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