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Braced on his son’s arm, Roosevelt walked his few lurching steps to the ros- trum. Breaking precedent, he recited the entire oath of office, rather than merely repeating “I do” to the chief justice’s interrogation. Then he began his inaugural address, speaking firmly in his rich tenor voice. Frankly acknowledging the crippled condition of the ship of state he was now to captain, he began by reassuring his countrymen that “this great nation will endure as it had endured, will revive and will prosper…. The only thing we have to fear,” he intoned, “is fear itself.” The nation’s distress, he declared, owed to “no failure of substance.” Rather, “rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated…. The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.” The greatest task, he went on, “is to put people to work,” and he hinted at “direct recruiting by the Govern- ment” on public works projects as the means to do it….

Just weeks before his inaugural, while on his way to board the Nourmahal in Florida, Roosevelt had spoken restlessly of the need for “action, action.” Presi- dent at last, he now proceeded to act with spectacular vigor.

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The first and desperately urgent item of business was the banking crisis. Even as he left the Mayflower Hotel to deliver his inaugural condemnation of the

 

 

Copyright 2010 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s). Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

248 MAJOR PROBLEMS IN AMERICAN HISTORY

“money changers,” he approved a recommendation originating with the outgoing treasury secretary, Ogden Mills, to convene an emergency meeting of bankers from the leading financial centers. The next day, Sunday, March 5, Roosevelt issued two proclamations, one calling Congress into special session on March 9, the other invoking the Trading with the Enemy Act to halt all transactions in gold and declare a four-day national banking holiday—both of them measures that Hoover had vainly urged him to endorse in the preceding weeks. Hoover’s men and Roosevelt’s now began an intense eighty hours of collaboration to hammer out the details of an emergency banking measure that could be pre- sented to the special session of Congress. Haunting the corridors of the Treasury Department day and night, private bankers and government officials both old and new toiled frantically to rescue the moribund corpse of American finance. In that hectic week, none led normal lives, Moley remembered. “Confusion, haste, the dread of making mistakes, the consciousness of responsibility for the economic well-being of millions of people, made mortal inroads on the health of some of us … and left the rest of us ready to snap at our images in the mirror…. Only Roosevelt,” Moley observed, “preserved the air of a man who’d found a happy way of life.”

Roosevelt’s and Hoover’s minions “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats,” Moley commented. “We were just a bunch of men trying to save the banking system.” William Woodin, the new treasury secretary, and Ogden Mills, his predecessor, simply shifted places on either side of the secretary’s desk in the Treasury Building. Otherwise, nothing changed in the room. The kind of bipartisan collaboration for which Hoover had long pleaded was now happening, but under Roosevelt’s aegis, not Hoover’s—and not, all these men hoped, too late. When the special session of Congress convened at noon on March 9, they had a bill ready—barely.

The bill was read to the House at 1:00 P.M., while some new representatives were still trying to locate their seats. Printed copies were not ready for the mem- bers. A rolled-up newspaper symbolically served. After thirty-eight minutes of “debate,” the chamber passed the bill, sight unseen, with a unanimous shout. The Senate approved the bill with only seven dissenting votes—all from agrarian states historically suspicious of Wall Street. The president signed the legislation into law at 8:36 in the evening. “Capitalism,” concluded Moley, “was saved in eight days.”…

On Monday the thirteenth the banks reopened, and the results of Roosevelt’s magic with the Congress and the people were immediately apparent. Deposits and gold began to flow back into the banking system. The prolonged banking crisis, acute since at least 1930, with roots reaching back through the 1920s and even into the days of Andrew Jackson, was at last over. And Roosevelt, taking full credit, was a hero. William Randolph Hearst told him: “I guess at your next elec- tion we will make it unanimous.” Even Henry Stimson, who so recently had thought FDR a “peanut,” sent his “heartiest congratulations.”

The common people of the country sent their congratulations as well—and their good wishes and suggestions and special requests. Some 450,000 Americans wrote to their new president in his first week in office. Thereafter mail routinely

 

 

Copyright 2010 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s). Editorial review has deemed that any suppressed content does not materially affect the overall learning experience. Cengage Learning reserves the right to remove additional content at any time if subsequent rights restrictions require it.

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