Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

8
The Rumble of Discontent

I wish there were a few million radicals.

-- Louisiana senator Huey P. Long, April 1935

As 1935 opened, what history was to remember as the New Deal had not yet happened. Franklin Roosevelt had given the country an abundance of the "bold, persistent experimentation" that he had promised in the presidential campaign of 1932, as well as a stiff dose of the "action along new lines . . . action, action" that he had urged upon his advisers just before taking office in 1933. The sheer activism of the new administration no doubt helped to shore up the national spirit in a season of despair, as did Roosevelt's own carbonated optimism -- "it seemed to generate from him as naturally as heat from fire," one awed presidential dinner guest wrote.1 But nations -- and their leaders -- can subsist on solely spiritual nourishment little longer than they can live on bread alone. Despite the exhilaration of the Hundred Days, despite the exertions of the NRA and the AAA, despite the reopening of the banks and the efforts of federal relief agencies, despite all the ingenuity and exuberance of Roosevelt and his New Dealers, the Depression persisted. After two full years of the New Deal, one in five American workers remained jobless. The tonic effect of Roosevelt's inaugural declaration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" had long since worn off. To many of those who had put their faith in Roosevelt in 1932, and especially to those who had always hoped for something more dramatic than his prudent and piecemeal reformism, the New Deal appeared, even before it reached its second anniversary, to be a spent political

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1
Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers Project, 1933-1945 ( Boston: Little, Brown, 1972), 11.

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