Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR): 32nd Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
FDR was intelligent but not brilliant. He was pampered as the only child of aristocrats. He was crippled by polio at age 39, but his political flexibility and infectious charisma made him perfectly suited to deal with the immense challenges of his presidency. He hired the first woman in cabinet, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins.
FDR was the 5th cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was a C student at Harvard, and a private man that brought an easy personality to the White House. He had enormous personal charm, but supposedly wore “an actor’s mask” of a face. Even those closest to him didn’t know what made him tick, and it’s said that no one really knew him.
FDR was confined to the wheelchair. As President, this handicap of Roosevelt was downplayed. He tried to only be photographed standing, and disguised the painful steps he had to take leaning on an aide. He had a customized Ford with hand controls, and in newsreels he appeared to be an able-bodied man. Images of his handicap were kept from the public by the media.
FDR’s management style was cluttered and chaotic. He pitted advisors against one another, and saw administrative chaos as necessary. He passed off fighting as creativity. FDR’s was not a perfect presidency by any means, but his messy management style allowing too many people in the room was seen as the building of a political house where all voices could be heard.
From March 1933 to June 1944, Roosevelt addressed the American people in some 30 speeches broadcast via radio, speaking on a variety of topics from banking to unemployment to fighting fascism in Europe. Millions of people found comfort and renewed confidence in these speeches.
FDR used radio to bring the presidency closer to the people. Approximately 60% of American people listened to his fireside chats. He was a master broadcaster with a sense of drama that could take dull political speech and emphasize the right points, bringing it to the crescendo it needed to hit.
First 100 Days
Within days of his inauguration in 1933, President Roosevelt called Congress into special session and introduced a record amount of legislation. His “New Deal,” it turned out, involved regulation and reform of the banking system, massive government spending to “prime the pump” by restarting the economy and putting people back to work, and the creation of a social services network to support those who had fallen on hard times.
Between March 8th and June 16th, in what later became known as the “First Hundred Days,” Congress followed Roosevelt’s lead by passing an incredible fifteen separate bills which, together, formed the basis of the New Deal. Several of the programs created during those three and a half months are still around in the federal government today. Roosevelt’s most notable actions during the Hundred Days were:
National Bank Holiday
It was passed by the United States Congress in an attempt to stabilize the banking system. On February 14, 1933, Michigan, which had been hit particularly hard by the Great Depression, declared an eight-day bank holiday. Fears of other bank closures spread from state to state as people rushed to withdraw their money. Within weeks, 36 other states held their own bank holidays in an attempt to stem the bank runs. The banking system seemed to be on the verge of collapse.
Following his inauguration in March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt set out to rebuild confidence in the nation’s banking system, first declaring a four-day banking holiday that shut down the banking system, including the Federal Reserve. Prepared by the Treasury staff during Herbert Hoover’s administration, the legislation was passed on March 9, 1933. The new law allowed the twelve Federal Reserve Banks to issue additional currency on good assets so that banks that reopened would be able to meet every legitimate call.
Ending the Gold Standard
On June 5, 1933, the United States went off the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed by gold, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. The country had been on a gold standard since 1879, except for an embargo on gold exports during World War I, but bank failures during the Great Depression of the 1930s frightened the public into hoarding gold, making the policy untenable. Roosevelt’s nationwide bank holiday forbade banks to pay out gold or to export it.
According to Keynesian economic theory, one of the best ways to fight off an economic downturn is to inflate the money supply. Increasing the amount of gold held by the Federal Reserve would in turn increase its power to inflate the money supply. Facing similar pressures, Britain had dropped the gold standard in 1931, and Roosevelt had taken note.
On April 5, 1933, Roosevelt ordered all gold coins and gold certificates in denominations of more than $100 turned in for other money. It required all persons to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion and gold certificates owned by them to the Federal Reserve by May 1 for the set price of $20.67 per ounce.
By May 10, the government had taken in $300 million of gold coin and $470 million of gold certificates. Two months later, a joint resolution of Congress abrogated the gold clauses in many public and private obligations that required the debtor to repay the creditor in gold dollars of the same weight and fineness as those borrowed.
In 1934, the government price of gold was increased to $35 per ounce, effectively increasing the gold on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheets by 69 percent. This increase in assets allowed the Federal Reserve to further inflate the money supply.
The government held the $35-per-ounce price until August 15, 1971, when President Richard Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert dollars to gold at a fixed value, thus completely abandoning the gold standard. In 1974, President Gerald Ford signed legislation that permitted Americans again to own gold bullion.
Passed as the Banking Act, Glass-Steagall prohibited commercial banks from participating in the investment banking business. Glass-Steagall was sponsored by Senator Carter Glass, a former Treasury secretary who helped write the legislation for the establishment of the Federal Reserve, and Senator Henry Steagall, a member of the House of Representatives and chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee. The Act was passed as an emergency measure to counter the failure of almost 5,000 banks during the Great Depression. Glass-Steagall lost its potency in subsequent decades and was finally repealed in 1999.
Apart from separating commercial and investment banking, Glass-Steagall also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guaranteed bank deposits up to a specified limit. The Act also created the Federal Open Market Committee and introduced Regulation Q, which prohibited banks from paying interest on demand deposits and capped interest rates on other deposit products (it was repealed in July 2011).
Glass-Steagall’s primary objectives were to stop the unprecedented run on banks restoring public confidence in the U.S. banking system; and to sever the linkages between commercial and investment banking that were believed to have been responsible for the 1929 market crash. The rationale for seeking the separation was the conflict of interest that arose when banks were engaged in both commercial and investment banking, and the tendency of such banks to engage in excessively speculative activity.
Glass-Steagall’s repeal in 1999 is believed in some circles to have contributed to the 2008 global credit crisis. Commercial banks around the world were saddled with billions of dollars in losses due to the excessive exposure of their investment banking arms to derivatives and securities that were tied to U.S. home prices.
The severity of the crisis forced Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last of the top-tier independent investment banks, to convert to bank holding companies. Coupled with the acquisition of other prominent investment banks Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch by commercial banking giants JP Morgan and Bank of America, respectively, the 2008 recession ironically signaled the final demise of Glass-Steagall.
This independent U.S. government corporation was created under authority of the Banking Act of 1933 with the responsibility to insure bank deposits in eligible banks against loss in the event of a bank failure and to regulate certain banking practices. It was established after the collapse of many American banks during the initial years of the Great Depression. Although earlier state-sponsored plans to insure depositors had not succeeded, the FDIC became a permanent government agency through the Banking Act of 1935.
The FDIC’s income is derived from assessments on insured banks and from investments. Insured banks are assessed on the basis of their average deposits; they are currently allowed pro-rata credits totaling two-thirds of the annual assessments after deductions for losses and corporation expenses. The corporation is authorized to insure bank deposits in eligible banks up to a specified maximum amount that has been adjusted through the years. Having begun in 1934 with deposit insurance of $5,000 per account, in 1980 the FDIC had raised that amount to $100,000 for each deposit.
From 1933 on, all members of the Federal Reserve System were required to insure their deposits, while nonmember banks— about half the United States total — were allowed to do so if they met FDIC standards. Almost all incorporated commercial banks in the United States participate in the plan. The FDIC is managed by a board of five directors who are appointed by the U.S. president; the five board positions are chairman, vice chairman, director, comptroller of the currency, and director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.
Federal Securities Act
The Securities Act of 1933 wanted to ensure more transparency in financial statements so investors can make informed decisions about investments, and to establish laws against misrepresentation and fraudulent activities in the securities markets. It was the first major piece of federal legislation regarding the sale of securities.
Prior to this legislation, the sale of securities was primarily governed by state laws; however, the market crash of 1929 raised some serious questions about the effectiveness of how the markets were being governed. Because of the turmoil surrounding the investing community at this time, the federal government had to bring back stability and investor confidence in the overall system.
In general, the legislation was enacted as the need for more information within and about the securities markets was acknowledged. It addressed the need for better disclosure by requiring companies to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration ensures companies provide the SEC and potential investors with all relevant information by means of the prospectus and registration statement.
Agricultural Adjustment Act
One of the first to be introduced and enacted was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
For the first time, Congress declared that it was “the policy of Congress” to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This concept, outlined in the AAA, was known as “parity.”
AAA controlled the supply of seven “basic crops” – corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco and milk – by offering payments to farmers in return for taking some of their land out of farming, not planting a crop.
LeRoy says there only a few farmers who refused to take the government payments. “There’s a few that said, ‘The government isn’t going to tell me what to do.’ There was a few of them. Now, I don’t think there was too many.” Most farmers couldn’t afford not to take the government payments.
In 1937, the Supreme Court ruled that the AAA was unconstitutional, but the basic program was rewritten and again passed into law. Even critics admitted that the AAA and related laws helped revive hope in farm communities. Farmers were put on local committees and spoke their minds. Government checks began to flow. The AAA did not end the Depression and drought, but the legislation remained the basis for all farm programs in the following 70 years of the 20th Century.
This idea of supporting farmers by limiting supply has also produced controversy. Some critics point out that only seven of the hundreds or thousands of different crops grown by farmers are eligible for payments. No livestock producers are included. Farmers also continue to produce more and more despite the limitations the government imposes. New technologies make it possible to grow much more on the same amount of land.
Civilian Conservation Corps
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was President Roosevelt’s answer to the environmental and economic challenges facing the country. Enlisting 250,000 workers in just two months, the CCC was an ambitious undertaking that brought several government agencies together in the effort. The Department of Labor recruited men from the ages of 18 to 25; the War Department clothed and trained them for two weeks, and the Department of Agriculture designed and managed the specific work assignments.
With projects in every U.S. state and territory, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” lived in camps under quasi-military discipline, and received a wage of $30 per month, $25 of which they were required to send home to their families. Typically, boys rose early for breakfast in the canteen before heading off for eight hours of manual labor. Lunch was often brought out to the work site. In the evenings ninety percent of enrollees took advantage of classes offered in subjects from literature to welding — courses which, over nine years, taught 40,000 illiterate men to read and write.
After planting 3 billion trees in nine years of service, the CCC dissolved in July of 1942. As the economy began to improve in the late 1930s, young men found higher-paying jobs at home, and the number of CCC camps across the country dwindled. President Roosevelt’s attempt at turning it into a permanent agency failed. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. involvement in World War II, the CCC’s funding and assets were diverted as the nation’s focus shifted toward the war effort. The legacy of the CCC continues to live on in the hundreds of campgrounds, hiking trails and swimming holes still enjoyed by Americans today.
Tennessee Valley Authority
The Tennessee Valley Authority Act on May 18, 1933, created the TVA as a Federal corporation. The new agency was asked to tackle important problems facing the valley, such as flooding, providing electricity to homes and businesses, and replanting forests. Other TVA responsibilities written in the act included improving travel on the Tennessee River and helping develop the region’s business and farming.
The establishment of the TVA marked the first time that an agency was directed to address the total resource development needs of a major region. TVA was challenged to take on, in one unified development effort, the problems presented by devastating floods, badly eroded lands, a deficient economy, and a steady out-migration.
The most dramatic change in Valley life came from the electricity generated by TVA dams. Electric lights and modern appliances made life easier and farms more productive. Electricity also drew industries to the region, providing desperately needed jobs.
National Industrial Recovery Act
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) ushered in a unique experiment in U.S. economic history. The NIRA sanctioned, supported, and in some cases, enforced an alliance of industries. Antitrust laws were suspended, and companies were required to write industry-wide “codes of fair competition” that effectively fixed prices and wages, established production quotas, and imposed restrictions on entry of other companies into the alliances.
The act further called for industrial self-regulation and declared that codes of fair competition for the protection of consumers, competitors, and employers were to be drafted for the various industries of the country and were to be subject to public hearings. Employees were given the right to organize and bargain collectively and could not be required, as a condition of employment, to join or refrain from joining a labor organization.
National Recovery Administration
The National Recovery Administration (NRA), created by a separate executive order, was put into operation soon after the final approval of the act. President Roosevelt appointed Hugh S. Johnson as administrator for industrial recovery. The administration was empowered to make voluntary agreements dealing with hours of work, rates of pay, and the fixing of prices. Until March 1934, the NRA was engaged chiefly in drawing up these industrial codes for all industries to adopt. More than 500 codes of fair practice were adopted for the various industries. Patriotic appeals were made to the public, and firms were asked to display the Blue Eagle, an emblem signifying NRA participation.
From the beginning, the NRA reflected divergent goals and suffered from widespread criticism. The businessmen who dominated the code drafting wanted guaranteed profits and insisted on security for their renewed investment and future production. Congressional critics insisted on continued open pricing and saw the NRA codes as a necessary means of making it fair and orderly. A few intellectuals wanted an even more extensive government role in the form of central economic planning. Finally, unhappy labor union representatives fought with little success for the collective bargaining promised by the NIRA. The codes did little to help recovery, and by raising prices, they actually made the economic situation worse.
Though under criticism from all sides, NRA did not last long enough to fully implement its policies. In May 1935, in the case of the Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the compulsory-code system on the grounds that the NIRA improperly delegated legislative powers to the executive and that the provisions of the poultry code (in the case in question) did not constitute a regulation of interstate commerce. In a lengthy and unanimous opinion, the Court seemed to demonstrate a complete unwillingness to endorse Roosevelt’s argument that the national crisis of economic depression demanded radical innovation. Later, FDR would use this Court opinion as evidence that the Court was living in the “horse and buggy” era and needed to be reformed.
Public Works Administration
Created by the National Industrial Recovery Act on June 16, 1933, the Public Works Administration (PWA) budgeted several billion dollars to be spent on the construction of public works as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare, and contributing to a revival of American industry. Simply put, it was designed to spend “big bucks on big projects.”
Labor Secretary Frances Perkins had first suggested a federally financed public works program, and the idea received considerable support. After having scaled back the initial cost of the PWA, FDR agreed to include the administration as part of his New Deal reforms.
More than any other New Deal program, the PWA epitomized the FDR’s notion of “priming the pump” to encourage economic growth. Between July 1933 and March 1939, the PWA funded the construction of more than 34,000 projects, including airports, electricity-generating dams, and aircraft carriers; and seventy percent of the new schools and one third of the hospitals built during that time. It also electrified the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington, D.C. Its one big failure was in quality, affordable housing, building only 25,000 units in four and one half years.
The PWA spent over $6 billion, but did not succeed in returning the level of industrial activity to pre-depression levels. Nor did it significantly reduce the unemployment level or help jump-start a widespread creation of small businesses. FDR, personally opposed to deficit spending, refused to spend the sums necessary to accomplish these goals. Nonetheless, the historical legacy of the PWA is perhaps as important as its practical accomplishments at the time. It provided the federal government with its first systematic network for the distribution of funds to localities, ensured that conservation would remain an element in the national discussion, and provided federal administrators with a broad amount of badly needed experience in public policy planning.
When FDR moved industry toward war production and abandoned his opposition to deficit spending, the PWA became irrelevant and was abolished in June 1941.
Federal Emergency Relief Act
When President Franklin Roosevelt needed someone to come and make an effective plan for relief through the Federal Emergency Relief Act, he called Harry Hopkins. Hopkins had over 20 years of experience with social work and welfare issues.
Roosevelt realized that most of the federal government’s relief efforts had never been successful because they often got stuck in political wrangling. To prevent these problems, Roosevelt told Hopkins to focus on action rather than the complications of politics.
The Federal Emergency Relief Act sought to be effective through providing work for employable people on the relief rolls, and having a diverse variety of relief programs. FERA provided grants from the federal government to state governments for a variety of projects in fields such as agriculture, the arts, construction and education. Many people who were receiving relief aid were highly trained, skilled workers. The hope was that by providing many different types of jobs and salaries that were similar to workers’ previous jobs the whole country would benefit.
Second New Deal
Although FDR had forged a broad, progressive coalition during his 1932 campaign, by 1935 it seemed to be fraying at the seams. The most progressive members, like Senator Huey Long, argued that the New Deal didn’t go far enough, while wealthier business interests were opposed to what they saw as a government takeover of the economy.
Instead of admitting defeat, Roosevelt once again moved quickly and aggressively. Soon after the court decision, he enacted what became known as the Second New Deal, proposing several pieces of legislation that included:
On August 14, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. During the Great Depression many older people were unemployed. Americans were living longer but retiring earlier; age discrimination made it difficult for elderly Americans to find employment. People who had worked hard all their life to support their families were living in poverty. Americans all over the country argued that they deserved compensation. Dr. Francis E. Townsend advocated that all Americans over the age of 60 should stop working and receive $200 per month from the federal government, and he gathered over 5 million supporters. As “Townsend Clubs” sprang up across the country, Franklin Roosevelt knew he had to do something to address the plight of unemployed, older Americans.
As Governor of New York State FDR enacted a law to provide old-age pensions and was ready to extend it nationally. By Executive Order, Roosevelt created the Committee on Economic Security and their recommendations provided the basis for Congress’ 1935 Social Security Act.
Under the Act, Congress appropriated some funds for the program, but the rest of the money came from a payroll tax. Money was taken out of an employee’s paycheck to help pay for Social Security, which in 1937 was about 2% of each paycheck. Older Americans, and later dependents and the disabled were given the money.
Initially 60% of the workforce was covered by Social Security (by 1995, 95% of the workforce was covered). Ernest Ackerman was the first person to receive Social Security; he retired one day after the program began. For that one day the government withheld $.05 of his paycheck but later he got back a lump-sum payment of $.17. During the first few years of Social Security, eligible Americans received, on average, $58.06.
Before Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, it was unusual for the government to give people money, and some Americans were against Social Security. In two cases, the Supreme Court ruled on the Constitutionality of the Social Security Act, but ruled in both instances that Congress could legislate on this national issue. Social Security is one of the many things still in place today because of Franklin Roosevelt. Americans still pay into Social Security while they work so that they will receive money when they stop working.
National Labor Relations Act
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, passed through Congress in the summer of 1935 and became one of the most important legacies of the New Deal. Reversing years of federal opposition to organized labor, the statute guaranteed the right of employees to organize, form unions, and bargain collectively with their employers. It assured that workers would have a choice on whether to belong to a union or not, and promoted collective bargaining as the major way to insure peaceful industry-labor relations.
The act also created a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to arbitrate deadlocked labor-management disputes, guarantee democratic union elections, and penalize unfair labor practices by employers. The law applied to all employers involved in interstate commerce other than airlines, railroads, agriculture, and government.
The act contributed to a dramatic surge in union membership and made labor a force to be reckoned with both politically and economically. Women benefitted from this shift as well, and, by the end of the 1930s, 800,000 women belonged to unions, a threefold increase over 1929.
Eleanor Roosevelt was an outspoken advocate for labor and a champion of the Wagner Act. She defended it in her columns, press conferences, and lecture tours. In 1947, when the Taft-Hartley Act was passed, it successfully killed the NLRB and replaced it with a new five-member board whose mandate was of far less value to labor than that of its predecessor. ER denounced Taft-Hartley and the conservatives seeking to undo the New Deal’s pro-labor policies. In the September 1, 1950 issue of The Advance (the newspaper of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America), ER stated that “instead of clamping down on the labor movement, Americans’ should be extremely grateful to unions.'”
Works Progress Administration
Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous, because it affected so many people’s lives. Roosevelt’s vision of a work-relief program employed more than 8.5 million people. For an average salary of $41.57 a month, WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports.
Under the direction of Harry Hopkins, the enthusiastic ex-social worker who had come from modest means, the WPA would spend more than $11 million in employment relief before it was canceled in 1943. The work relief program was more expensive than direct relief payments, but worth the added cost, Hopkins believed. “Give a man a dole,” he observed, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit”.
The WPA employed far many more men than women, with only 13.5 percent of WPA employees being women in the peak year of 1938. Although the decision had been made early on to pay women the same wages as men, in practice they were consigned to the lower-paying activities of sewing, bookbinding, caring for the elderly, school lunch programs, nursery school, and recreational work. Ellen Woodward, director of the women’s programs at the WPA, successfully pushed for women’s inclusion in the Professional Projects Division. In this division, professional women were treated more equally to men, especially in the federal art, music, theater, and writers’ projects.
When federal support of artists was questioned, Hopkins answered, “Hell! They’ve got to eat just like other people.” The WPA supported tens of thousands of artists, by funding creation of 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture that decorate public buildings nationwide. The federal art, theater, music, and writing programs, while not changing American culture as much as their adherents had hoped, did bring more art to more Americans than ever before or since. The WPA program in the arts led to the creation of the National Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The WPA paid low wages and it was not able to employ everyone — some five million were left to seek assistance from state relief programs, which provided families with $10 per week. However, it went a long way toward bolstering the self-esteem of workers.
It’s important to note that none of the New Deal legislation put an end to the depression. Only the industrial mobilization of World War II would. In that way, FDR did not succeed anymore than Hoover did in stemming the Depression economically. What he did was exude public confidence. He made the Depression more palatable. FDR made it seem like he was doing something. He made it seem like he cared.
Americans believed happy days were here again in 1936 when FDR won a landslide with 61% of the popular vote. He felt invincible. Then, there would be a series of missteps.
On February 5, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt announced a controversial plan to expand the Supreme Court to as many as 15 judges, allegedly to make it more efficient. Critics immediately charged that Roosevelt was trying to “pack” the court and thus neutralize Supreme Court justices hostile to his New Deal.
During the previous two years, the high court had struck down several key pieces of New Deal legislation on the grounds that the laws delegated an unconstitutional amount of authority to the executive branch and the federal government. Buoyed by his landslide reelection in 1936, President Roosevelt issued a proposal in February 1937 to provide retirement at full pay for all members of the court over 70. If a justice refused to retire, an “assistant” with full voting rights was to be appointed, thus ensuring Roosevelt a liberal majority. Most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress opposed the so-called “court-packing” plan.
In April, however, before the bill came to a vote in Congress, two Supreme Court justices came over to the liberal side and by a narrow majority upheld as constitutional the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act. The majority opinion acknowledged that the national economy had grown to such a degree that federal regulation and control was now warranted. Roosevelt’s reorganization plan was thus unnecessary, and in July the Senate struck it down by a vote of 70 to 22. Soon after, Roosevelt had the opportunity to nominate his first Supreme Court justice, and by 1942 all but two of the justices were his appointees.
The court packing power grab was beyond what was necessary to deal with social problems and seen as a desire for power by Roosevelt himself. After the court packing plan failed, the 2nd term was marked by legislative gridlock. The heady days of the New Deal were over and claims of presidential greatness were left unfulfilled.
World War II
FDR’s overconfidence caused a backlash in Congress. His magic touch had worn off. World War II allowed him to reconstitute himself as a leader of people in a time of crisis. FDR was a full step ahead of the public seeing war on the horizon as early as 1937. He worked on isolationists then to open their minds to getting involved.
In the summer of 1940, France fell to the Nazis and the Battle of Britain began. That November FDR was elected for a 3rd term. The scale and nature of World War II all but guaranteed a 3rd and 4th term for FDR. Even before our direct involvement in the war, FDR found ways to aid allies while being officially neutral in 1940 and 1941.
Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan’s losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
After a brief and forceful speech the next day, FDR asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives. FDR’s statement would’ve been “a date which will live in world history” if he had kept his original draft. not quite as memorable. Pearl harbor made FDR a war president and he was a superb one. He was intimately involved in the complicated diplomacy of the war years.
Two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast. This resulted in the relocation of approximately 120,000 people, many of whom were American citizens, to one of 10 internment camps located across the country. Traditional family structure was upended within the camp, as American-born children were solely allowed to hold positions of authority. Some Japanese-American citizens of were allowed to return to the West Coast beginning in 1945, and the last camp closed in March 1946. In 1988, Congress awarded restitution payments to each survivor of the camps.
The relocation of Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II was one of the most flagrant violations of civil liberties in American history. According to the census of 1940, 127,000 persons of Japanese ancestry lived in the United States, the majority on the West Coast. One-third had been born in Japan, and in some states could not own land, be naturalized as citizens, or vote. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, rumors spread, fueled by race prejudice, of a plot among Japanese-Americans to sabotage the war effort. In early 1942, the Roosevelt administration was pressured to remove persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast by farmers seeking to eliminate Japanese competition, a public fearing sabotage, politicians hoping to gain by standing against an unpopular group, and military authorities.
On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced all Japanese-Americans, regardless of loyalty or citizenship, to evacuate the West Coast. No comparable order applied to Hawaii, one-third of whose population was Japanese-American, or to Americans of German and Italian ancestry. Ten internment camps were established in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas, eventually holding 120,000 persons. Many were forced to sell their property at a severe loss before departure. Social problems beset the internees: older Issei (immigrants) were deprived of their traditional respect when their children, the Nisei (American-born), were alone permitted authority positions within the camps. 5,589 Nisei renounced their American citizenship, although a federal judge later ruled that renunciations made behind barbed wire were void. Some 3,600 Japanese-Americans entered the armed forces from the camps, as did 22,000 others who lived in Hawaii or outside the relocation zone. The famous all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team won numerous decorations for its deeds in Italy and Germany.
The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the relocation order in Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States. Early in 1945, Japanese-American citizens of undisputed loyalty were allowed to return to the West Coast, but not until March 1946 was the last camp closed. A 1948 law provided for reimbursement for property losses by those interned. In 1988, Congress awarded restitution payments of twenty thousand dollars to each survivor of the camps; it is estimated that about 73,000 persons will eventually receive this compensation for the violation of their liberties.
Whether Franklin Roosevelt should have or could have done more to rescue European Jews and to stop Hitler’s killing machine is a question that will likely be debated by historians for decades to come. Some scholars have criticized President Roosevelt for his approach to refugee issues prior to and during World War II, and he is even accused of having pursued misguided policies and of being indifferent to the Holocaust. Others insist that such assessments fail to account adequately for the American public’s pre-war isolationism and anti-Semitism, strict immigration and quota laws that enjoyed wide public and Congressional support, and military practicalities that—for much of the war—limited the Allies’ ability to reach Jews trapped deep behind enemy lines.
In 1942, as details of Hitler’s Final Solution reached the Allies, it was difficult for the public and many government officials to grasp the extent and significance of the Nazis’ systematic, mechanized killing. In a December 13, 1942 radio broadcast listened to by millions, popular newsman Edward R. Murrow described “a horror beyond what imagination can grasp . . . there are no longer ‘concentration camps’—we must speak now only of ‘extermination camps.’”
On December 17, 1942, the United States joined ten other Allied governments in issuing a solemn public declaration condemning Nazi Germany’s “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination” of the Jews. The American Congress and the British Parliament stood in silence on that date to mourn what was happening to the Jews and pray for the strength needed to defeat the Nazis.
Roosevelt believed that the surest way to stop the killing of innocent civilians was to defeat Hitler’s Germany as quickly and decisively as possible. Critics say that FDR’s “win the war” approach did not address the possibility that significant numbers of Jews could be rescued.
In January 1944, after learning from Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. that the State Department was obstructing rescue efforts, Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board to coordinate governmental and private efforts to rescue those who might still be saved. The Board is credited with saving at least 200,000 Jews. Critics argue that if FDR had acted earlier, and more boldly, even more lives could have been saved.
Winning The War
FDR steadfastly believed the most important thing he could do was to win the war. It would help those in concentration camps most. Winning the war meant a massive assault on Europe. This meant D-Day, the greatest logistic effort ever conceived.
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.
5 months later, FDR would be reelected to his 4th term. He was 62 and in failing health. It’s understandable why he wanted to see the war to the end, but it was probably a irresponsible act. He should’ve stepped aside and let more capable leader play end game.
The February 1945 Yalta Conference was the second wartime meeting of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the conference, the three leaders agreed to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender and began plans for a post-war world. Stalin also agreed to permit free elections in Eastern Europe and to enter the Asian war against Japan, for which he was promised the return of lands lost to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Although most of these agreements were initially kept secret, the revelations of the conference particulars became controversial after Soviet-American wartime cooperation degenerated into the Cold War.
Yalta became controversial after Soviet-American wartime cooperation degenerated into the cold war. Stalin broke his promise of free elections in Eastern Europe and installed governments dominated by the Soviet Union. Then American critics charged that Roosevelt, who died two months after the conference, had “sold out” to the Soviets at Yalta.
Still, the Allies shape the new world order and fulfilled Wilson’s League of Nations vision, when they convinced stalin to sign off on a plan for an international peacekeeping organization called the United Nations.
The name “United Nations” coined by FDR was first used in the Declaration by United Nations of January 1st 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks in August-October 1944.
The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States. It officially came into existence on October 24, 1945 when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on October 24th each year.
Legacy of FDR
On April 12th, 1945 FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage ending the longest and greatest presidency ever. He handled a depression in the 1930’s and a global war in the 1940’s. He had the personal and political tools to excel in both of those crises, allowing him to change the presidency more than anyone before or after him in terms of types of policies and actions that the government would be willing to undertake, and in making the President himself a titanic figure in the minds of the public in a way that it had never been before.
FDR was an unusual alchemy of charm, arrogance, improvisation and political cunning. He changed the very idea of what it meant to be President, and all future Presidents have to reckon with his legacy.
Bitching About Roosevelt
Ultimately, FDR was a rich guy, protected by the press, who played to the poor by passing legislation that was ultimately ineffective in order to grow government. He was literally the first President to answer the “cares about people like me” question before it was even asked. His popularity in making cosmetic changes to the economy made him grab for more power as he tried to pack the Supreme Court. While the scheme itself did not work, the Supreme Court became full of his appointees anyway.
Additionally, FDR saw war as an opportunity politically to revive his presidency and his legacy long term. This meant subordinating the civil liberties of Japanese and ignoring the elimination of Jews in Europe. He then made a deal with a questionable ally to take the lead in international peacekeeping. A deal which the questionable actor would renege on.
Herbert Hoover preceded him
Harry Truman would follow him.
It all started with George Washington.