And a Time for Hope: Americans in the Great Depression

By James R. McGovern | Go to book overview
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The President

On President Roosevelt's fifty-second birthday in 1934, the New York Journal American published a sketch congratulating him, entitled "The Champion." He is therein portrayed as an apparition, above and distantly behind the occupants of the room, with a thoughtful expression and quiet, reassuring smile. Actually, he is present only in the thoughts of the humble family that give thanks to him, seated around a modest table on which sits a birthday cake with a single candle. Family members look profoundly grateful, perhaps even prayerful. 1

This drawing only nine months after he became president suggests that Roosevelt was beginning to assume legendary proportions. One can find nothing remotely resembling this depiction describing President Hoover who presided, as did Roosevelt, in a period of enveloping depression and who, like Roosevelt, also spoke confidently about America's economic recovery. Hoover, as far as the public was concerned, however, appeared flat, abstract, and friendless; Roosevelt was believable, comforting, and admirable.

This changeover in attitudes toward the new president was remarkable both for its rapidity and because it became for the public the basis for lasting convictions favorable to Roosevelt; the effects of the Depression would not get worse under Roosevelt, and there was a good chance, given his willingness to experiment and his humane vision, that conditions would improve, however gradually.

The press corps in Washington marveled at the swift transformation. A reporter for The New York Times observed a change even during the inaugural parade. He noted among those lining the streets, "Their spirits are lifted by his smile of confidence as they watch the parade," and a week later,

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