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This Week in History
March 31 - April 6, 1933
Congress Approves President Roosevelt's
Civilian Conservation Corps

March 2013

National Archives
A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Marsing, Idaho, in 1941. The crew is laying concrete pipe. Roosevelt’s CCC program should be revived today, to give young people the opportunity to become productive members of society.

On March 31, 1933, Congress approved "An Act for the relief of unemployment through the performance of useful public works and other purposes." The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to provide 250,000 jobs for unemployed males between the ages of 18 and 25. At a press conference two days before the bill was passed, a reporter asked the President "How soon do you think we can get them out, Mr. President?" Roosevelt replied, "I should think we can get the first people enrolled within two weeks after the passage of the bill. That means they probably could not get to camp until three weeks. Of course, we cannot start off with 250,000 at one time. That will take quite a while." Yet despite the difficulties posed by the collapse of the economy, the CCC succeeded in putting young people to work at an incredibly rapid rate.

An Executive Order of April 5 appointed a director, and an Advisory Council with representatives from the Departments of War, Interior, Agriculture, and Labor. Local state relief and welfare organizations selected the enrollees in cooperation with the Department of Labor. The War Department was charged with paying, housing, clothing and feeding the men, although the men were under civilian control. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior planned the work projects, recommended camp locations and supervised the programs. Two days after the Executive Order was signed, the first man was selected, and 10 days later the first camp was set up in George Washington National Forest in Virginia and work began.

The first call for men was for 25,000. Roosevelt stated that he "authorized enrollment of 250,000 juniors and about 25,000 experienced men to be selected from the neighborhoods where camps were located," in order to train the new recruits. Separately, Roosevelt also authorized the enrollment of 25,000 veterans of World War I, as a separate and distinctive part of the organization. Each member of the Corps received room and board, clothing, medical care, and $30 per month, but out of that monthly pay, an allotment was sent to the families of the men.

Largest Mobilization of Men in U.S. History

As Roosevelt wrote in 1938, in his notes on the history of the CCC, "By early July, three months after the first man had enrolled, 250,000 enrollees, 25,000 war veterans and 25,000 experienced woodsmen were settled in 1,468 forest and park camps of 200 men each, in every State of the Nation. It was the most rapid, large-scale mobilization of men in our history."

After three months, the President and others visited many of the camps and saw how successful they were. As a result, the number of enrollees was increased, and the age range was broadened to 17 to 28. Roosevelt also called for 50,000 men from the drought-stricken central states, and another 50,000 Indians from the reservations, where drought had brought the Indians to complete destitution. With the number of Corps members expanding, Roosevelt also added educational programs to the camps and named a Director of Education.

The number of enrollees and camps reached their peak on Aug. 31, 1935, when there were 505,782 men in 2,652 camps. "From that point," said Roosevelt, "the strength of the Corps was gradually reduced as conditions became better, and as the size of the relief rolls diminished." By April 1936, 1,150,000 men had graduated from the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In a radio address on the third anniversary of the CCC, President Roosevelt summarized its achievements, and in his notes to that speech, he pointed out that the Corps "has saved and improved vast areas of forest land; it has helped to control soil erosion, reduce flood damage and increase the recreation facilities of the Nation." Roosevelt also wrote that, "The greatest and most worthwhile achievement of the Corps was the help given to the young men themselves." And by that, he meant not only the economic help, but the change that was wrought in their outlook on life.

The importance of that factor was beautifully set forth in Roosevelt's address to the Young Democratic Club in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 13, 1936. After greeting the audience, he continued:

'The Rough Hand of Depression'

"You who fill this great armory tonight represent a cross-section of millions of young people who have come to maturity since 1929. You are the symbol of young men and women living in every State of the Union, affiliated with every political party and belonging to every so-called stratum of society."

"The world in which the millions of you have come of age is not the set old world of your fathers. Some of yesterday's certainties have vanished; many of yesterday's certainties are questioned. Why have some vanished? Why have many been questioned? Because the facts and needs of civilization have changed more greatly in this generation than in the century that preceded us.

"I need not press the point with you. You are measuring the present state of the world out of your own experiences. You have felt the rough hand of the depression. You have walked the streets looking for jobs that never turned up. Out of that have come physical hardship, and, more serious, the scars of disillusionment.

"The temper of our youth has become more restless, more critical, more challenging. Flaming youth has become a flaming question. And youth comes to us wanting to know what we propose to do about a society that hurts so many of them.

"There is much to justify the inquiring attitude of youth. You have a right to ask these questions—practical questions. No man who seeks to evade or to avoid deserves your confidence....

"Yes, you young people want action. You believe, as I believe, that the something which needs to be done, can be done. How significantly American it is to believe that.

"The vigor of our history comes, largely, from the fact that, as a comparatively young Nation, we have gone fearlessly ahead doing things that were never done before. We subdued a wilderness that men said could never be conquered. We established a civilization where others insisted a civilization could not survive. Between 1776 and 1789, we built a Republic, a Government for which, in the extent of its democracy, there had been no precedent—a Government which Royalists declared could not endure.

"We did all these things with zest. The very air was exhilarating. We were young; we were getting things done—worthwhile things. And, it is part of the spirit of America to believe that now, in our day, we can do equally well in getting things done. Once again, the very air of America is exhilarating....

"Our war for independence was a young man's crusade. Age was on the side of the Tories and the Tories were on the side of the old order. At the Revolution's outbreak George Washington was forty-three, Patrick Henry thirty-eight, Thomas Jefferson, whose birthday we are celebrating today, was thirty-two, and Alexander Hamilton was eighteen.

"Our Constitution, likewise, was the creation of young minds. The average age of the men who wrote the Constitution was about forty-four. The qualities of youth are not of a sort that self-satisfied people welcome in 1936, any more than self-satisfied people welcomed them in 1776.

"I have used the words 'the qualities of youth.' Be wise enough, be tolerant enough, you who are young in years, to remember that millions of older people have kept and propose to keep these qualities of youth. You ought to thank God tonight if, regardless of your years, you are young enough in spirit to dream dreams and see visions—dreams and visions about a greater and finer America that is to be; if you are young enough in spirit to believe that poverty can be greatly lessened; that the disgrace of involuntary unemployment can be wiped out; that class hatreds can be done away with; that peace at home and peace abroad can be maintained; and that one day a generation may possess this land, blessed beyond anything we now know, blessed with those things—material and spiritual—that make man's life abundant. If that is the fashion of your dreaming, then I say: 'Hold fast to your dream. America needs it.'" 


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.