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October 9 - 15, 1932
FDR's Decisive Presidential Campaign

October 2011

FDR Library
Outgoing President Herbert Hoover (left), with Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933. Hoover had tried to use the RFC to bail out the banking system. But his policy was a disaster, since instead of extending credit to build infrastructure and create jobs, he slashed expenditures, declaring, on May 5, 1931, that a balanced Federal budget “was the most essential factor to economic recovery.”

From mid-September until early October 1932, Democratic Presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt travelled 9,000 miles, on a railroad whistlestop tour which took him to the West Coast and back again, ending with a radio address on Oct. 6. As the Governor of New York, Roosevelt was familiar with the disastrous economic and social conditions which followed the 1929 crash, but he wanted to see for himself what conditions were like across the whole country. He also wanted to counter the rumors, which were being eagerly circulated by the opposition, that his physical condition made it impossible for him to withstand the rigors of hard campaigning.

Conditions in the fall of 1932 were grim enough, but the stubborn belief by the Hoover administration that things would eventually get better was allowing the situation to worsen, literally day by day. Tarpaper shacks inhabited by the unemployed and the dispossessed surrounded the major cities. Railroad engine firemen often shovelled coal out the door from their passing trains to the shacks by the rails so that the inhabitants would have fuel for cooking and for keeping themselves warm. Thousands and thousands of citizens, including teenage children, rode boxcars from one region of the country to another, desperately trying to find work. Houses and farms were foreclosed in record numbers, and in the farm states of Idaho, North Dakota, and Minnesota, further foreclosures were barred in order to stop the riots by farmers. There was even a surge of emigration, as some Americans left their country to look for opportunity in Europe.

President Herbert Hoover remained a prisoner of his belief that self-reliance and "rugged individualism" could enable anyone to succeed, and his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, rejoiced that the President held such a compliant ideology. When a delegation visited Hoover in June of 1930, and pleaded for a program of Federal public works, he replied, "Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late. The depression is over." When a drought was killing cattle in the Southwest in 1930, he asked Congress to provide loans to the farmers to buy cattle feed. But when he was asked to allow the Farm Board to give away surplus wheat to the unemployed, he refused.

Probably nothing demonstrated Hoover's rigidity more than his behavior with the Bonus Army. Veterans of World War I had been legally granted an insurance policy which they could cash in 1945. Given their straitened circumstances, many veterans began to pressure Congress to allow them to obtain their cash immediately. In May of 1932, a bill allowing them to do so was introduced in the House, but it was shelved when the Hoover Administration announced itself against the bill because it was inflationary, and would interfere with the balanced budget. Roosevelt, too, disapproved of early payment, but he offered the New York veterans who went to Washington free transportation home and guaranteed them employment.

Not so with President Hoover, who, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, foresaw demonstrations and even revolution. When the first economy-in-government bill had come before the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senators proposed reducing armed forces salaries by 10%. President Hoover, however, urged them to restore the cuts to enlisted men's salaries, because if there were riots, he did not want to have count on disgruntled soldiers who had had their pay cut.

When the bonus bill was shelved in May 1932, thousands of veterans descended on Washington and camped out. Hoover, at first, sent them supplies. The House then voted on June 13 to pay the bonus, but the Senate voted against it. When many of the veterans refused to leave following this defeat, Hoover ordered the camps to be evacuated on July 28. The U.S. Army, led by Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and future Generals Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, was deployed to destroy the encampment. In a show of force, the troops used tanks, sabers, and tear gas against the veterans, resulting in two deaths and the shacks and tents being set on fire. When Roosevelt read the news, he said that Hoover should have sent out for coffee and sandwiches and invited a delegation to the White House. Which is what, in essence, Roosevelt did when the Bonus Army returned after his inauguration, and he sent them food and offered them all jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Less than two months after the scattering of the Bonus Army, Governor Roosevelt boarded the "Roosevelt Special" in Albany and headed west, talking about crop control in Topeka, railroad subsidies in Salt Lake City, reciprocal tariffs in Seattle, and social justice in hard-hit Detroit on the way back. Then, on Oct. 6, he beamed a radio message to a simultaneous set of luncheons held by the Business and Professional Men's League throughout the country. The projected New Deal policies had not sprung fully-formed: they were still in the process of development, but it was Roosevelt's overall principles and perspective which were communicated to the voters that day.

"It is needless for me to point out that the events of the past three years have proved to very many ... business men that the Republican leadership is by no means proof against unsound economics resulting in disastrous speculation and subsequent ruin. Furthermore, this same leadership has been unable to do more than put temporary patches on a leaking roof without any attempt to put a new roof on our economic structure. And you all know that a roof that has to be mended in some new place after every rain will not last long, but must be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

"Business men in every part of the country have learned this other lesson from the depression: that an artificial, over-stimulated business boom is an unsound menace, especially if it affects only one portion of the population, while other portions of our population are getting poorer and poorer. That is why I have so greatly stressed the necessity of restoring prosperity to our agricultural interests, to our cattle interests, to our mining interests, as an essential adjunct to restoring general business prosperity.

"This doctrine I have been preaching ever since the day I was nominated, and I am happy that the President, in his speech on Tuesday, finally has come to agree with me on this point when he says, 'Every thinking citizen knows that the farmer, the worker, and the business man are in the same boat and must all come to shore together.' I am glad also that he thereby admits that the farmer, the worker and the business man are now all of them very much at sea!

"I have just returned from a visit to a score of the States of the Nation. I made this trip primarily to learn at first hand the problems and the conditions in the various sections of the country. I took occasion to explain various aspects of the program which I propose as a chart to guide my Administration if I am elected President.

"Back in April, in discussing certain questions, I used the term 'a concert of interests' to describe my policy. It is not a new term, but one which had historic standing. I have conceived it to be a necessity in the present state of affairs to keep this constantly in mind.

"To do otherwise is to go from group to group in the country, promising temporary and oftentimes inexpedient things. It is to go to the farmers and promise them something and then to the business men and promise them another thing.... This type of campaigning, which might be called a 'pork-barrel' campaign, is not my notion of what the country needs in a time like this. It is my profound conviction that the Democratic candidates are to be entrusted with the administration of Government at the coming election. There will be high responsibility and I am not going to enter upon that responsibility without charting a course sufficiently broad and deep to make certain a successful voyage....

"With this broad purpose in mind, I have further described the spirit of my program as a 'new deal,' which is plain English for a changed concept of the duty and responsibility of Government toward economic life. Into this general plan and actuated by this spirit, I have been setting the details of the program intended to right specific troubles of specific groups without, at the same time, inflicting hardships upon other groups. Above all, my program has looked to the long view, intending to see that the factors that brought about our present condition may not occur again....

"It is up to the Government to maintain its most sacred trust to guard the welfare of its citizens.... The time has come when industrial leadership must serve the public interest. I am sure that you will not fail to improve. I have discovered in my journeying that, as I suspected, the American people are thoroughly disillusioned concerning our economic policies at home and abroad. There is arising an insistent demand for a new deal. I have been telling you some of the ways in which I conceive those insistent demands ought to be met. I should like to say again that there is neither magic nor cure-all in any of this. Hard necessity drives us now. The mandate is clear and peremptory. These are the things which we must do."


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.