- Category: History 118 Week 4
- Published on Saturday, 29 December 2012 02:25
- Written by Dr. Eric Mayer
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The Depression was blamed for destroying the American family for the birth rate decline from more than 3 million births in 1921 to 2.4 million in 1932.
But in many cases the Depression actually caused families to pull together. This was true of the tragic odyssey of the Okies and Arkies. For in 1936 and 1937 the hardships of depression were compounded by a natural disaster in the arid regions of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas, due to topsoil erosion and Dust Storms as depicted in The Grapes of Wrath.
The troubling paradox of the Great Depression was that deprivation was widespread in a country that was blessed with plenty. American factories remained as capable as ever in producing goods, but they stood silent because no one could afford to buy the goods.
Business and the Republican party which took credit for the heady days of prosperity now took the blame for the depression and shantytowns were called Hoovervilles, newspapers were used as blankets, people slept on park benches, in boxcars in subways and on the streets and heating vents.
Hoover entered the White House in 1929 as the great humanitarian but when year later he was the torturer of the American people.
As a president he was moved by the suffering of the American people and he gave much of his income to charity.
Something had to be done and many people that lived through the depression of the 1890’s didn’t want to see the same amount of terror and social conflict.
Hoover did spend $500 million on improving government properties and these projects did create some jobs. The most famous of them was the Boulder Dam now called the Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas.
Hoover led the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 which was an agency to help banks railroads and other key economic institutions stay in business.
He also cut consumer taxes, but this did nothing for the unemployed.
The RFC was an unpopular program and people saw it not as a recovery policy but as relief for big business while individuals were told to fend for themselves.
Much more was needed such as massive relief to the poor and this Hoover would not authorize for he believed that the "rugged individual" would pull himself through the crisis.
He also believed that the states should take the lead in fighting the depression and he viewed government was a business and that his job was not to help individuals, but to balance the budget. Hoover predicted in 1931 that prosperity was just around the corner.
And for a few months in 1931, Hoover’s predictions seemed to be coming true for most economic indicators made a modest gain.
The the entire industrialized world followed the United States into the economic pit of depression. As banks failed across Europe investors panicked. Worried that all paper money would lose its value, international investors withdrew $1.5 billion in gold from American banks and this furthered weakened the financial structure and launched a new wave of local bank failures.\
At the same time the socialist and communists in the US were making strong gains at the polls. The Socialist party presidential candidate Norman Thomas in 1928 won 267,000 votes, but in 1932 won 882,000. Communist candidate William Z. Foster doubled his vote in four years from 49,000 to 103,000. But 23 million were cast for the Democrats and 16 million for the discredited Republicans.
The problem was that most Americans did not interpret the Great Depression as evidence that capitalism had failed. Because Americans always believed that success was an individual and private affair and so was failure and bankruptcy.
People who were broke or homeless wondered not how the system failed them, but how they had failed the system.
The Gillette company played on this feeling of self-guilt and personal failure in a famous advertisement that showed a husband reporting shamefully to his wife that he still had not found a job. The message, at the height of the Depression was that employers had turned him down, not because there were not any jobs, but because he had cut himself while shaving and he made a poor appearance.
Long after the Depression it was the proud boast of many families that however bad things had gotten they never had gone "on the country" and never had taken handouts from public welfare agencies.
But there was violence and hungry, angry people rioted in St. Paul and other cities and attacked grocery stores.
Americans displayed their disenchantment with traditional sources of leadership in other ways. Businessmen became the subject of ridicule in the media.
The most curious form of cynicism toward traditional values was the admiration lavished on a new kind of criminal, the mid-western bank robber.
The sensationalist press transformed John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Folyd, Machine Gun Kelley, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ma Barker in modern day robin hoods. People admired them.
The film industry exploited this envy of a few who beat the system by making movies that slyly glamorized lawbreakers. The studios were still fearful of censorship and they always wrote a moral ending to their stories of gangster crime.
Still in the gangster movies the message was clear: criminals played by George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney were pushed deep into their careers by poverty and often had redeeming qualities.
The film industry did not suffer during the Depression and movies flourished during the worst years.
The major themes during the depression were escapist in nature, Shirley Temple, Bible Epics, and low budget westerns were just some of the main plot materials.
On the other hand some directors specialized in films that concentrated on social issues that were often hard hitting. Directors such as Frank Capra created films that lovingly celebrated old American values and threats to them. Typically Frank Capra movies pitted decent, ordinary men and women against indolent, parasitical and usually crooked businessmen and politicians.
In 1932 FDR was elected president. Interestingly FDR was descended from or related by marriage to 11 presidents of the US. FDR had tremendous confidence in America and the American people and this was a major asset in the battle against the Great Depression.
FDR carried out fireside chats where he explained to the American people what he was doing to end the Depression.
His wife Eleanor Roosevelt was also a great woman who forced her husband to appoint women to high government positions, she supported organized labor when her husband tried to avoid the issue and she made the grievances of black America a particular interest.
Never before or since had the US experienced such an avalanche of laws as Congress passed and the president signed during the spring of 1933.
This period was what is known as the Hundred Days.
The most serious problem was the imminent collapse of the nation’s financial system.
The Emergency Banking Act eliminated weak banks. FDR halted the drain of US gold by forbidding its export and by taking the nation off the gold standard. The price of gold was frozen at $35 an ounce.
FRD’s programs were called the New Deal and it attempted to halt the dispossession of farmers through the establishment of the Farm Credit Administration.
The Federal Emergency Relief Administration was established and it quickly distributed $500 million to states so that they could save or revive their exhausted programs for relieving the desperate plight of the poor.
The CCC was created with a grant of $500 million and it employed some 500,000 Americans.
The CWA was created or Civil Works Administration that put 4 million unemployed people back to work.
FDR supported the 21st Amendment which was the repeal of Prohibition and he gained enormous popular support for dong this on March 13, 1933.
The NRA or National Recovery Administration was formed in an attempt to bring order to the shattered American economy.
Unfortunately the New Deal and all its programs suffered a severed setback in the Supreme Court in 1933 which declared the ND unconstitutional.
The NRA met its death for establishing working conditions that didn’t bode well with how chickens could be slaughtered in Kosher kitchens and kosher kitchens argued that the NRA regulations represented unjustifiable government intervention in religion.
Still FDR was able to salvage most of the reforms that he had implemented.
The AAA, the agricultural adjustment administration was formed in 1933 to regulate farm prices and income. Farmers were subsidized by the government to keep certain portions of their lands out of production.
Because the crops of 1933 were already in the ground the AAA established that every 3rd pig and was to be killed and every 3rd row be plowed under. 6 million small pigs were killed outright. 1/3 of the 1933 cotton crop was plowed under in order to stabilize farm prices.
The TVA was formed as was the Rural Electrification Administration that brought electricity to isolated farm regions that had been of no interest to private utility companies. It was vulnerable to court action because it put the government into the business of distributing power indirectly and competing with private industry.
The TVA was even more far reaching in that it was a massive government construction, flood control, and electrification project that shaped an entire region.
Predictably the TVA and the REA were attacked as socialistic ventures.
Even before the election of 1936 FDR had shifted the direction of his reforms. At first he had viewed the New Deal as a New Deal for everyone and he felt that he had saved the capitalistic system of a form of political extremism that was breaking out in Europe, but he felt betrayed for big business cast FDR as a villain.
On the question of civil rights for Blacks FDR was nearly silent and the democratic party depended heavily o its southern support.
FDR even refused to support a federal anti-lynching bill and he tolerated and even condemned the racial segregation of work gangs on government supported building projects such as the TVA.
The greatest positive accomplishment of the New Deal was to ease the economic hardship suffered by million of Americans and in doing so to preserve their confidence in American institutions.
As a formula for economic recovery the New Deal failed. When unemployment dropped to 7.5 million in early 1937 and other economic indicators seemed good FDR began to dismantle the government programs.
The result was another economic collapse and a depression within a depression and while it wasn’t as serious as the previous depression it revealed that the New Dealers had created a house of cards that was upheld by government money.
Only when preparations for a world war began and purchasing was up for American goods did the Great Depression end. By 1939 the economy was clearly on the upswing. By 1940, with Europe already at war the Great Depression was history.
Also for the first time in history the federal government came to play a role in people’s lives that would have been unthinkable before 1933 and in many aspects it modernized American rural sectors, and in the American context can be thought of as a revolution.
But a darker side of the New Deal was the extraordinary growth in the size of government. Extensive government programs required huge bureaucracies to carry out and implement the programs. The number of federal employees rose from 600,000 in 1930 to over 1 million in 1940.
Between 1896 and 1933 the Republican party had been the nation’s party. The only Democratic president during that era had been Woodrow Wilson.
The Great Depression and the New Deal changed everything, FDR with Jim Farley forged a new majority of the solidly Democratic South and northern and western liberals, blue collar workers and blacks and western ranchers.
When FDR took office he was causal about foreign policy and his Secretary of State was Cordell Hull.
FDR and Hull created the Good Neighbor Policy that meant the US would not intervene in Central and South America. Even when Mexico seized US oil properties under Cardenas and nationalized them FDR did nothing.
FDR kept cool. And when WWII broke out most Latin American nations backed the US in the fight. The Good Neighbor Policy was good foreign policy for had even a single South American country permitted Nazi Germany to establish bases on its soil it would have seriously inhibited the American contribution to the war in Europe and Asia.
In November of 1933 FDR formally recognized the Soviet government which four presidents had refused to do.
Still Americans were suspicious of Europe and in a series of Neutrality Acts passed between 1935 and 1937 Congress said "never again" And three laws warned American citizen against sailing on the ships of the belligerents, also the belligerents would be required to pay cash for all U.S. goods and they would have to carry them in their own ships.
Finally belligerents were forbidden to buy arms in the US and to borrow money from American banks.
Critics of the neutrality acts argued that they worked to the disadvantage of countries that were the innocent victims of aggression and such nations would be unprepared for war unlike the aggressor nations.
This was certainly the case of Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but until 1938 Americans were only interested in avoiding a repetition of the events that had taken them into war in 1917.
Each year after 1933 there was new evidence that the work was drifting into another bloodbath.
In 1934 Hitler began rearming Germany. In 1935 Hitler introduced universal military training and Italy invaded Ethiopia. In 1936 Francisco Franco started a rebellion against he unstable democratic government in Spain and received massive support from both Italy and Germany.
In 1937 Japan sent land forced into China and seized the northern capital. In 1938 Hitler forced the Anschluss or forced union of Austria to Germany. In the same year Hitler demanded that Czechoslovakia surrender the sudetenland to him.
After the infamous Munich Conference of 1939 he invaded all of Czecholoslovakia. In September of 1939 Hitler invaded Poland also Hitler had singed a nonaggression pact with the USSR and Britain and France were unsure over what to do about Germany.
Stalin knew that he was on Hitler’s hit list and he bought time in order that he could adequately prepare Russia’s force for the coming invasion.
As Hitler’s legions invaded Poland from the West, Russian troops streamed toward Eastern Poland and the tiny Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
In the Winter of 1939 to 1940 there was an uneasy peace and journalists spoke of the phony war. and the British and the French huddled behind the Maginot line. But the Germans had other plans and they were preparing for the Blitzkrieg or lightening war which would be a massive land, sea, and air attack.
In the Spring the crack German SS overran Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. In jUne of 1940 France collapsed and 300,000 British soldiers ran for their lives in the ill-fated battle, defeat and rout at Dunkirk.