The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 34 – Page 780

Our Critique

780 “Great crises often call forth gifted leaders, and the hand of destiny tapped Roosevelt on the shoulder.”

I wonder why “the hand of destiny,” instead of merely tapping Roosevelt on the shoulder, could not have guided him in how to avoid double digit unemployment every year during the 1930s. The nation’s murder rate was higher in the 1930s than in any decade from 1900 to 1960; suicides increased, and life expectancy, for the first time in US history went down during FDR’s first two terms. Bailey’s glowing praise and sense of destiny for FDR is rhetoric, not reality.

780 “Roosevelt’s New Deal programs aimed at three R’s—relief, recovery, and reform. Short-range goals were relief and immediate recovery, especially in the first two years. Long-range goals were permanent recovery and reform of current abuses, particularly those that had produced the boom-or-bust catastrophe. The three-R objectives often overlapped and got in one another’s way. But amid all the topsy-turvy haste, the gigantic New Deal program lurched forward.”

Bailey presents “relief, recovery, and reform” in a cheery, positive light. To Bailey, the New Deal was working: “Amid all the topsy-turvy haste, the gigantic New Deal program lurched forward.” But actually it didn’t. Of relief, recovery, and reform—which dominate the chart on page 781—two out of the three failed. There was no real relief or recovery, only reform in a direction of bigger government and more subsidies for politicians to dispense. On relief, the numbers of American on relief sharply increased after Roosevelt became president. On recovery, unemployment in May 1939—almost seven years after FDR was elected in 1932—was more than 20 percent. Before 1932, the United States had never had 20 percent unemployment, but it was more than 20 percent after almost two terms of the New Deal.

In public, FDR and his New Dealers put on a happy face and told of great things happening. But in private, many of them squirmed because the New Deal had failed. In May 1939, Henry Morgenthau, the secretary of Treasury and a long-time friend of FDR’s, spoke candidly to key Democrats in Congress. Morgenthau confessed: “We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work… . We have never made good on our promises…. I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started … and an enormous debt to boot!”