Franklin Delano Roosevelt and His New Deal
The 1932 presidential election came in the midst of the greatest economic depression experienced by the American people. Never before in the history of the United States has pessimism been so universal. The descent from the height of prosperity of the late 1920s had been rapid, bringing fear and uncertainty. By March 1932 approximately 12 million men and women were unemployed. By March 1933 unemployment had reached 13.5 million. In the hard-hit cities, long lines of hungry people waited before charity soup kitchens for something to eat, and thousands unable to pay rent, huddled in empty lots. Homeless people made shelters out of old packing cartons. More than one million Americans wandered through the country aimlessly looking for work.
President Herbert Hoover tried to use governmental power to check the economic downfall but did so without success. Critics of Hoover claimed that his policies were too conservative and lacked imagination. His defenders maintained that, regardless of the president's efforts, the depression just had to run its course. But millions of Americans could not afford to wait for the economic system to correct itself. The depression had caused not only financial disaster but also and perhaps the most important, a loss of personal pride, status and sense of self-respect. Many Americans demanded prompt and immediate action. As a result all indications pointed to a sweeping Democratic victory in the 1932 presidential election.
The Republicans knew that their position was weak indeed. But they renominated Hoover and campaigned on his record. The Democrats met in Chicago in June, confident of victory. After a successful pre-convention, masterfully managed by James Farley and Lois Howe, Franklin Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination on the fourth ballot. The fifty-year old governor broke with tradition by flying to the convention to accept the nomination in person. "I pledge you," he told the delegates, "I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people" (Leuchtenburg,114).
Roosevelt toured the nation talking about economic reforms. He declared his total support for the system of capitalism but insisted that changes were needed to prevent dangerous revolutionary movements from developing out of the economic collapse. Hoover, on the other hand, opposed proposals for additional federal controls and stressed his belief that voluntary cooperation of individuals would restore prosperity. There was only one campaign issue: the economic depression (Leuchtenburg, 119).
On election day, 1932, the nation gave Roosevelt a smashing victory, 22,809,038 votes to Hoover's 15,758,901. Hoover carried only six states, losing the electoral vote 472 to 59. The democrats also elected heavy majorities to both housed of Congress. "This is the greatest night of my life!" Roosevelt declared on hearing the election results. The nation wanted change and placed their...