Saturday, March 4, 2017

FDR | March 4–Inauguration

The Brains Trust with President-elect FDR.
L to R: Cary Grayson, Norman Davies, Raymond
Moley, Redford Tugwell, Will Woodin, FDR.
On this day, March 4, 1933, at a climax of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 32nd U.S. president.

For his rained-on Inaugural Address outside the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, FDR had to ascend the steps to the podium to take the oath of office.

To do this, an elaborate series of wheelchair-accessible ramps was constructed and hidden. FDR walked the last few yards leaning heavily on the arm of his son James.

FDR then outlined his New Deal–an expansion of the federal government to create jobs and improve the quality of life for Americans. He told Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His Inaugural March, composed for the occasion by FDR's Treasury Secretary, William H. Woodin, was played in the rain. Despite the downpour, FDR delivered a speech that conveyed an upbeat, can-do spirit.

The President then had to face serious the bank panics and gold outflows. He turned that job over entirely to Treasury Secretary Woodin so that he could focus on the message that he wanted to deliver to his country.

Woodin immediately focused on printing more bills, getting them to the banks to solve the liquidity problem, publicizing the generation of liquidity, opening solvent ("sound") banks, and closing down banks that were insolvent. Meanwhile, Woodin worked on the passage of the Banking Act of 1933—the Glass-Steagall Act—and the Securities Exchange Act of 1933. The turnaround in the financial markets was almost immediate and endured.

FDR was born in 1982 to an old Dutch family in Hyde Park, NY, the fifth cousin of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, who served two terms as the 26th U.S. president in 1901-1909. In 1905, FDR, then a student at Columbia University Law School, married Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's niece. After three years practicing law, FDR followed his cousin Teddy's lead and campaigned for, and won, election to the NY State Senate in 1910 as a Democrat. He soon earned a reputation as a reform-oriented charismatic politician.

After supporting progressive N.J. Governor Woodrow Wilson in his successful 1912 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, FDR was appointed assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, a post that Teddy Roosevelt once held. In 1920, FDR won the Democratic nomination for vice president on a ticket with James Cox. The Democrats to Republicans Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and FDR returned to his law practice and some  business ventures.

In 1921, FDR was stricken with polio and became nearly totally paralyzed. His wife, Eleanor, kept the Roosevelt name alive in Democratic circles. In 1924, partly recovered (although he could never again walk unaided), FDR returned to politics, nominating NY Governor Alfred E. Smith for the presidency with a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention.

In 1928, he again nominated Smith, and the outgoing New York governor urged Roosevelt to run for Governor. Roosevelt campaigned across the state by automobile and was elected even as the state voted in the presidential election against their favorite son and for Republican Herbert Hoover.

As governor, Roosevelt worked for tax relief for farmers and in 1930 won a resounding electoral victory just as the economic recession brought on by the October 1929 stock market crash brought on the Great Depression. Governor Roosevelt mobilized the state government to play an active role in providing relief and spurring economic recovery. His aggressive and effective approach to the economic crisis won him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

The contrast between FDR's activist response in NY State to the Depression and President Hoover's laissez-faire inaction nationwide couldn't have been greater, and FDR had no trouble defeating Hoover in 1932. Many blamed Hoover for the Depression, and FDR carried all but six states. During the next four months before the inauguration, bank panics increased, the economy continued to decline. When Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, most banks were closed, farms were suffering, 13 million workers were unemployed, and industrial production stood at just over half its 1929 level.

FDR's Treasury Secretary, Will Woodin, was a Republican industrialist who had once run for Congress on a hard-money program. He was a fan of Teddy Roosevelt and helped FDR with his Warm Springs Foundation and with fundraising for his runs for Governor and President.

Woodin was a key player during the financial reforms of the first 100 days of FDR's presidency. Aided by a Democratic Congress, Roosevelt took prompt, decisive action, and most of his New Deal proposals were approved during these 100 days. Most important for the financial sector were the Banking Act or Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a trade of tough bank regulation for a limited deposit insurance program sought by the banks, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1933. Woodin as Treasury Secretary was deeply involved in the passage of these laws.

Job-creating programs also passed in the first 100 days included the Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Public Works Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority.

Although many in the business community stubbornly criticized FDR's regulatory and job-creating programs—both FDR and Secretary Woodin were called traitors to their class—the programs unquestionably improved America’s economic climate and FDR was reelected handily three more times. Woodin became sick from the long hours and stress of his job, and died in May 1934; FDR called him a "martyr to public service."