The economy was in its fourth year of depression when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president in March 1933. The number of unemployed had reached thirteen million, or about one-quarter of the civilian labor force, and the country's real net product had declined by approximately 33 percent and national income by more than 50 percent since the beginning of the downward slide in 1929. Popular expectations of an effective political response to the steadily deteriorating economic situation had become increasingly apparent during 1932 coincident with the largest annual decline in output and employment since the onset of the crisis. Confidently expressed preferences for various emergency measures were emanating from organized business groups who had a clear, if often extremely narrow, vision of what might be accomplished in their own best interest, as well as from those who professed to be aware of the increasingly profound sense of political frustration and economic despair among all Americans. Yet in the spring of 1933, business and political leaders were still nearly as far from agreement on the organizational requirements of a thoroughgoing response to the national economic calamity as they had been three years earlier.
Born essentially of the unprecedented breadth of the Depression and the initial rush by legislators to meet the often conflicting protectionist expectations of nervous constituencies, an irresolute political atmosphere in Congress between 1929 and 1932 precluded any agreement on central economic issues. Legislative chaos and the extremely cautious attitude of most businessmen during this period toward any suggestion of a political solution to their economic problems, moreover, served only to encourage Herbert Hoover's unremitting and outspoken confidence in what Ellis W. Hawley has described as a highly personalized version of "associationist" capitalism. 1 Thus, although control of the political situation after 1929 escaped him, Hoover pursued, with considerable self-assurance, a course of action toward which he was naturally inclined and steadfastly advocated a policy of voluntarism. For even though the wisdom of that doctrine had come under growing suspicion in view of an apparent contradiction between its basic precepts and the practical require