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

By David M. Kennedy | Go to book overview

11
The Ordeal of Franklin Roosevelt

Once you build a house you always have it. On the other hand, a social or an economic gain is a different matter. A social or an economic gain made by one Administration, for instance, may, and often does, evaporate into thin air under the next Administration.

-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, radio address, November 4, 1938

Pride, the ancient wisdom proclaims, goeth before a fall. Franklin Roosevelt in early 1937 had reason to be the proudest of men. He had wrung landmark reforms from Congress in 1935. He had won reelection in 1936 by a larger margin than any president in more than a century. He had ushered new constituencies into the Democratic Party, forging an electoral coalition of formidable power and durability. And as the first year of his second term opened, the economy he had pledged to revive continued to show signs of shaking off its Depression narcosis. Roosevelt understandably took satisfaction in these political achievements and took credit, as is the politician's habit, for the country's economic reawakening as well. He boasted in his second inaugural address, not without reason or pride, that "our progress out of the depression is obvious." And yet before the year 1937 was out, both the economy and the president's political fortunes would tumble to depths not touched since Herbert Hoover's presidency.1

Even in the heady moments of early 1937, a quaver of foreboding crept into the president's celebration of economic recovery. His agenda had from the outset embraced more than simply restoring the economy to good health. He also aimed to enact durable reforms, to reshape the topography of American economic and social life both to prevent future

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1
PPA ( 1937), 2.

-323-

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