Herbert H. Lehman and New York's Little New Deal

By Robert P. Ingalls | Go to book overview

Governor Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully twenty years later to gain legislative approval of bills strengthening the regulation of utilities. Both Hughes and Roosevelt also tightened the restrictions on banks, but FDR's proposals failed to prevent many questionable financial practices, because the governor too often accepted the advice of conservative bankers. Al Smith did little to constrain corporate interests, since he did not believe in interference with business. 5

New York's working class benefited from the movement for social justice. Charles Evans Hughes largely confined his labor program to stricter enforcement of existing laws. 6 However, after the devastating fire in New York City's Triangle Shirtwaist Company which killed 145 workers in 1911, the legislature set up the Factory Investigating Commission, headed by lawmakers Robert F. Wagner and Alfred E. Smith, to study working conditions around the state. As a result of this panel's extensive recommendations, New York enacted dozens of factory safety laws governing standards of construction, fire prevention, and sanitary conditions. During the years 1912-14, the state also adopted a system of workmen's compensation and fixed a fifty-four-hour workweek for most women, with the notable exception of those employed in upstate canneries. In 1927, New York reduced the maximum to forty-eight hours for women, but exemptions continued to impair the law's effect. As a product of the progressive tradition, Al Smith's labor policy extended little protection to men. Governor Roosevelt formulated a broad labor program, but with few exceptions the Republican-dominated legislature blocked its enactment. 7

Most studies of these three New York governors note their limited achievements. "GovernorHughes held up before the eyes of the people of New York a splendid vision of an improved state government, but the actual accomplishments were few," asserted an early history of the period. 8 Although one detailed examination of Smith's administration pictured it as "an embryonic welfare state," the author also declared that Smith's "progressive policies often reflected a concern with conservation rather than a desire for conscious innovation." 9 The Josephsons wrote: "Much of Smith's legacy to the people of New York State is confined to intangibles, such as the reorganization of the executive branch of government, or the shift in political power from the rural population to the city masses."10 While generally building on the foundation laid by the Happy Warrior, Governor Roosevelt proceeded with caution, since he had his sights fixed on winning the presidential nomination. 11 As a result, one historian observed, "Roosevelt did not make the same crusading impact on New York's social, economic and political history that Smith made." 12

In part, conservatives stood in the way of more sweeping change during the first generation of the twentieth century. Drawn from the ranks of big business and agriculture, most of New York's G.O.P. lawmakers opposed increases in government services which would benefit urban masses at the expense of more well-to-do taxpayers. In 1926, the Republican state platform pointed to "the Administration of President Coolidge as a model to restore economy, efficiency, and businesslike methods to Albany." 13 The Republican Old Guard often used its control of the state legislature to frustrate the plans of reform governors. Advances came about largely through a

-xviii-

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Herbert H. Lehman and New York's Little New Deal
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Notes xi
  • Contents xiii
  • Illustrations xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Notes xix
  • I- from Wall Street to State Street 1
  • Notes 24
  • II- Emergency Unemployment Relief 31
  • Notes 42
  • III- From Emergency Relief to the Welfare State 48
  • Notes 66
  • IV- The Search for Security 71
  • Notes 94
  • V- Defending the Defenseless 102
  • Notes 123
  • VI- Lending Labor a Hand 131
  • VII- The Promise of Parity 148
  • Notes 172
  • VIII- The Advent of Public Housing 182
  • IX- Battling the Utilities 210
  • Notes 226
  • X- The End of an Era 231
  • Notes 244
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 275
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