FDR and the Election of 1932 - History

FDR and the Election of 1932 - History

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FDR with Hoover in car

Franklin Roosevelt's overwhelming reelection as Governor and his activist record made him the early favorite for the Democratic nomination. The major obstacle was the rule that Democratic candidates were required to receive 2/3 of the convention vote. Roosevelt succeeded in obtaining the two thirds necessary. He broke tradition by flying to the convention to accept the nomination. With the nation deep in a depression, Roosevelt's vigorous campaign was able to easily overwhelm Hoover. Roosevelt carried 42 states, well over Hoover's 6 states.

Franklin Roosevelt's overwhelming victory in his 1930 reelection campaign for Governor set the stage for his bid for the Presidency. Roosevelt and his aids immediately began to maneuver behind the scenes to gain Roosevelt the nomination. Louis Howe worked on the inside, while Jim Farely traveled the country attempting to garner support for Roosevelt. Franklin was the early favorite but due to the Democratic convention rules that a candidate needed to receive 2/3 of the votes at the convention, a lead was not enough.

On March 15, Governor Roosevelt officially announced that he was running for the Presidency. As the convention approached, Roosevelt clearly had the lead. His opponents included Al Smith, and James Garner of Texas. The key to securing a convention victory was winning the nomination on one of the first ballots. On June 30, the first votes were cast for the nomination. Roosevelt received 666 (1/2), Smith received 203 (3/4) and Garner received 90 (1/4.) It was an impressive showing for Roosevelt, but still 104 votes shy of the 2/3 needed. Finally, on the fourth ballot, after Garner was offered the vice presidential candidacy, Roosevelt won the nomination.

The next day, in a break with tradition, Roosevelt flew to Chicago to accept the nomination. Roosevelt engaged in a vigorous campaign, attacking the policies of the Hoover administration. The onset of the depression had made the Republican position almost untenable. They had taken responsibility for the prosperity, now it was hard to evade responsibility for the depression. Roosevelt's one area of weakness was the corruption of New York's Tammany political organization. Charges of corruption had been brought against New York City's Mayor, James Walker. Roosevelt personally conducted the hearing, and gained important support by virtue of his resourceful handling of the investigation.

Ultimately, the Depression insured Roosevelt's overwhelming victory over Hoover. Roosevelt successfully presented himself as a leader who could make things happen and bring about a new deal for the American people. The American people turned to him in their time of need.

FDR and Polio

FDR became ill with polio in August 1921 while vacationing at the family’s summer home on Campobello Island off the coast of Maine. The disease paralyzed his legs and he never walked again. He was fitted with crutches and steel braces and used a wheel chair in private. He underwent physical therapy and sought a cure in the waters of Warm Springs, Georgia, but experienced no improvement. He later acquired Warms Springs and set up a convalescent center there for other “polios.” In 1938 he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, popularly known as The March of Dimes, to collect enough money to provide care and pay for research to develop a vaccine to protect against the disease.

By the time FDR ran for president he had learned how to move – to appear to be walking – without using crutches. He would firmly link arms with his oldest son James, or an aide, for support on one side of his body, and then used a cane in his free hand. With the muscles he had developed on his powerful torso, he was able to swing his legs, which were rigidly encased in his steel braces. For his inaugural speech, Americans saw FDR ‘walk’ (move) slowly to the rostrum securely on the arm of his son, showing the nation his strength – his mastery of movement in spite of his crippled legs – to inspire hope and repair the economy.

FDR’s Traveling Cane and Case. c.1930s. (GS)

Shown here is FDR’s traveling cane which could easily be assembled with either a curved or straight top, for day or evening use as needed both tops featured FDR’s monogram. While FDR was known by most Americans to be crippled, the severity of it was hidden. From the very first days of his illness, his family, friends, and staff assisted in disguising the extent of his disability. At a time when physical weakness was often perceived as mental weakness too, a political career would have been out of the question without this strategy. The press respected these boundaries and didn’t photograph him as he was being helped or carried, or sat in a wheelchair. All of FDR’s public appearances (and photos and newsreels) were carefully managed to show him fully able and capable of carrying the burden of office. One reporter noted during the 1932 campaign “a general impression of a pleasing personality whose gallant fight against a severe physical handicap won him much sympathy.”

FDR’s Cigarette Holder. c.1930s. (GS)

FDR was not only known for his cane but also for his cigarette holders. Like many men of his generation he was a heavy smoker, consuming at least a pack a day. This is one of several holders that he owned and used and is believed to be the one he is holding in this photograph. The holder and its cushioned leather case are both quite worn and show heavy use. At the time, the serious consequences of heavy smoking were not well understood, although FDR’s doctor did advise him to cut back in later years because the habit was causing health problems.

In contrast to his smoking, FDR drank in moderation, favoring martinis before dinner. Like many other Americans, he disapproved of Prohibition and by 1932 supported its repeal. In February 1933 Congress passed the 21st Amendment to undo the 18 th Amendment and by December of that year it had been ratified, making the sale of alcoholic beverages legal again where permitted by local and state law.

Roosevelt Aides in Chicago. June 19, 1932. (RH)

Original ACME photo caption: “At the Roosevelt headquarters in the Congress Hotel, Chicago. Left, Mrs. Jean S. Whittemore, Democratic Committeewoman from Puerto Rico center, Adelaide Cahill, Secretary to James Farley, Roosevelt Campaign Manager right, Louise Hack, Roosevelt secretarial staff.”

Immediately After Hearing the Good News, July 1, 1932. (RH)

Original International News photo caption: “FDR at the Governor’s Mansion, Albany, after learning of the nomination with Eleanor Roosevelt and sons Elliott (left) and John (right), July 1, 1932. Should he be elected these members of his family, with others at the Chicago ‘front’ may grace the White House in Washington.”

Cheering Roosevelt at Pittsburgh, October 19, 1932. (RH)

Original ACME photo caption: “Part of the cheering thousands that greeted Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt at Pittsburgh the night of October 19 th as the Democratic presidential nominee arrived to attack the Republican budget balancing.”

“Cactus Jack and Franklin D. (1932)” from Election Songs of the United States by Oscar Brand. Released: 1960. Track 23 of 26. Genre: Folk.


The climate in America at the time the Republican National Convention met on June 14, 1932, made the nomination decision a difficult one. Despite his seemingly disastrous first term, Hoover felt obligated to run again to vindicate himself and his policies. Republicans also felt his nomination was necessary, not because of their belief in his policies or the President in general, but because denying his re-nomination would be admitting failure. Therefore, by the time the convention had concluded on June 16, Hoover and his Vice-President Charles Curtis had been re-nominated. At the convention, Hoover and Curtis received “no spontaneous demonstrations, colorful eulogies, or triumphant parades” the delegates did not even bother posting pictures of the president around the convention hall.[4] The unenthusiastic tone of the convention carried through to the campaign that won Hoover only six states in November.

The Democrats, on the other hand, were in an excellent position to take the presidency. Because this was common knowledge at the Democratic National Convention, which met on June 27, 1932, it made the race for the nomination a great prize and “the battle to win it in some ways more exciting than the campaign that followed.”[5] Franklin D. Roosevelt was the frontrunner and finally, after much deliberation, was nominated to run for the next president of the United States alongside running mate John Garner. Roosevelt projected “confidence, energy, compassion, even joyfulness” in contrast with the “dour president,” and after being stricken with polio, he seemed even “more in tune with the struggling of the people.”[6] Roosevelt went with his party’s platform, based on reducing federal expenditures, a balanced budget, and the repeal of prohibition. In his address to the people after his nomination, the Governor from New York roused the audience to cheers with his promise: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”[7] This “new deal” that Roosevelt spoke of came to be the foundation of his campaign. He campaign hard despite media expectations that the battle was, for the most part, already won. Garner himself referenced this when he advised the president to “sit down—do nothing—and win the election.”[8] Hoover made this even easier when he used military force against peaceful protesting war veterans in Washington--the Bonus Marchers--after Congress rejected a bill which would have allowed veterans to borrow up to fifty percent of their service benefits. The violent expulsion of the Bonus Marchers, peaceful veterans who had served their country, gave the public one more reason to prefer the charismatic Roosevelt.

The landslide victory in November of 1932 for the Democratic Party,--which won Roosevelt 42 states and 57 percent of the popular vote-- was mirrored in the state of Washington, where votes for the Democratic candidates tallied well over 57 percent. The ballot box numbers demonstrate consistency with the nation’s support for Roosevelt, and local newspapers reflected this political bias. The use of headlines, rhetoric and diction in the articles was a powerful tool of support for Roosevelt and opens a window into the mind of Seattleites during the election.

FDR in Seattle, 1932. Click image to enlarge. (Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry)

The Seattle Daily Times had long been Seattle's most conservative newspaper, but in 1932 it joined the other dailies in supporting the Democrat candidate. The Times first started reporting on the election with the June 1932 nomination of President Hoover by referring to the “party’s Chieftains” as not being ecstatic over the victory and that they embarked on the “1932 campaign with extra caution.”[9] The rest of the coverage was based around the Republican stance on prohibition and the easy nomination victory Hoover received. While the paper was indeed reporting the news from the Republican convention, it showed its lack of excitement in its word choice, leaving the news lame and uninteresting.

The dull coverage of Hoover was contrasted by the exuberance with which newspaper greeted Roosevelt’s nomination. The front-page headline of The Times on July 3, 1932 read, “Roosevelt Means Prosperity! Like Moses, He Leads Us Out Of Wilderness: Good Times Are Here Again!”[10] As if the newspaper’s stance was not obvious enough, the opening statement in the article about Roosevelt’s speech made their preference quite clear:

[T]he speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the Democratic nomination for the Presidency rings out over the country with the full clear tone of an unmistakable sincerity and a lofty purpose. It is a speech from the heart of a sound American, coined into convincing words and phrases in the mind of one whose capacity for public service has been amply demonstrated… It is in all respects a great speech.[11]

Not only was Roosevelt applauded for his speech, but the article emphasized the importance of printing candidate’s nomination speech, even when Hoover’s speech of less than a month earlier was not printed. It was obvious that the editors of The Times were ready for change, even without a firm understanding of what that would bring.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had traditionally been a more moderate newspaper. Owned by the Hearst newspaper chain, it usually endorsed Democratic Party presidential candidates, following the political convictions of owner, William Randolph Hearst. The PI coverage of Hoover’s nomination during the Republican convention was very similar to that of The Times: showcasing the same un-enthusiastic rhetoric and headlines in regards to President Hoover. Much of the coverage reports on the convention’s goals in reference to the prohibition and warns that the party’s effort to straddle the issue will be “not a very successful attempt.”[12]

As in The Times, the PI showed a contrasting eagerness in the articles about Roosevelt. The newspaper published opinion piece by William Randolph Hearst proclaiming that Roosevelt will “make a great President,” and that both men—Roosevelt and Garner—“are eminently qualified for these positions by long years of skillful public work and faithful public service,” and that it will be “an enormous benefit to this nation of ours to have two such men in commanding positions.”[13] By running this article, the PI allowed Hearst to speak for them and explicitly declare their support for Roosevelt. In comparing the attitudes of the Times and the PI, two papers that usually differed when it came to partisan politics, we can see an overwhelming consensus of support for Roosevelt in the Seattle.

Evidently, college students, both in Seattle and nationally, did not share in this consensus. The UW Daily conveys the impression that students favored Hoover overwhelmingly. Because the Daily was not published during the summer months when school was not in session, it is difficult to gain their views of the National Convention nominations. However, in the days before the November1932 election, a straw poll was taken on campuses across the country to determine how college students felt about the election. On November 8, 1932, The Daily came out with findings that paralleled the national poll, reporting that Herbert Hoover had won the majority of votes in the straw poll.[14] At UW the Hoover margin was larger than the national poll. Sixty percent of those participating in the unscientific poll at UW said they supported Hoover.[15] It is not clear that this was an accurate reading of student opinions since students had to make an effort to participate in the straw poll. But the results are still important, demonstrating that despite the huge victory for the Democrats, there was still a decent amount of support in the city.

The Times continued its support for Roosevelt on the eve of the election, though at this point the newspaper restrained its previous exuberance for the Democratic Party. On November 9, after Roosevelt's victory, the editor took space on the front page to congratulate the president-elect but also apologized if The Times does not “at once join in the tumult of rejoicing won in the name of the Democratic Party,” because of its “long held faith in the fixed principles of the Republican Party to be carried away by a shift of breeze in the public opinion.”[16] The statement shows how far the Times had strayed from its usual political position. The Seattle Times had crossed party lines in 1932.

The PI did not have to make such a distinction, and on the eve of the election referred to the “humble” nature of Roosevelt’s speech. The PI also highlighted a comment made by Hoover that underscored his violent actions against the protesting war veterans in Washington: Hoover stated that he was glad “we still have a government in Washington that knows how to deal with a mob.”[17] The writer for the PI used strong language to emphasize the distaste Americans should have for the departing President after this last act, and referred to Hoover’s comment as “cold and calculated venom.” The author went on to say that there is nothing any President has said which can compare with this, which made millions of Americans reel back as if “under a blow in the face.”[18] This was not the first time a PI reporter had highlighted Hoover’s inadequacies to promote Rooseveltian sympathy however, this was the most blatant.

By looking at how these three different Seattle-area newspapers covered the 1932 presidential election, one can begin to define not only the papers’ political hopes for new leadership during depths of the Depression, but also the mood of the people. The University of Washington Daily’s undergraduate base simply represented a demographic that was a small minority in Seattle supporting President Hoover. However, it is in the widely circulated major newspapers that we find a better representation of the majority opinion, and the true atmosphere of Seattle. Though they often were opposed in issues of partisan politics, the consensus of support for Roosevelt among the PI and the Seattle Times shows how desperately the Seattle public and the nation were looking for a change in leadership during the Depression.

Copyright (c) 2009, Nicholas Taylor
HSTAA 105 Winter 2009

[1] Thomas C. Cochran. The Great Depression and World War II: 1929-1945. (Scott, Foresman and Company: Glenview, 1968) pp. 14.


Republicans: The Depression had taken a toll on Herbert Hoover&rsquos popularity and it seemed as if he could not provide answers. The Republican party was split as the rural Republicans struggled to support him. Hoover had an inability to relate to common people and his opponent could.

Democrats: Franklin D. Roosevelt provided answers. He talked about a New Deal for Americans and proposed ideas that would expand the federal government&rsquos role in the life of the citizen. The New Deal would give Americans hope. FDR related to Americans and they wanted to trust him. He also spoke out against prohibition.

The Election of 1932: Photographs of FDR

In my book I use this picture of Franklin Roosevelt arriving at the capital in 1932. Now we have a picture before that of Roosevelt riding with Herbert Hoover from the White House to the capital. These are two men who had been friends since 1917, they had worked together in the Woodrow Wilson administration, they had considered running as a Hoover/Roosevelt ticket for the Democrats in 1920, except that Hoover decided that he was really a Republican and went for them and Roosevelt went for vice president that year on the Democratic ticket. Then they sort of drifted apart, and in 1928 Roosevelt became governor of New York, Hoover became president and then they became rivals in 1932. Their relationship became more and more bitter to the point when they rode from the White House to the capital they practically didn't speak to each other.

At this point they've arrived at the Capital, Hoover is nowhere to be seen, but Roosevelt is out standing with his family. Roosevelt had been stricken with polio in 1921 and he had lost the use of his legs. This was going to be an issue in the election of 1932—would we elect a president who was paralyzed? Hoover knew about Roosevelt's condition and he speculated that the nation would not elect a "half-man" and that Roosevelt might collapse in office. I think Hoover thought that Roosevelt would not be an effective campaigner that he would probably be too weak to carry on a campaign. Roosevelt, in fact, is an enormously vigorous campaigner, [he] spends the time traveling back and forth across the country, being photographed constantly. Hoover, who has been working seven days a week late into the night over the problems of the Depression, has aged terribly in his four years—the photographs of him make him look 82 years old. So Roosevelt looks much healthier and more vigorous than Hoover does.

Roosevelt goes to great lengths to disguise his illness. People wrote stories about it, saying that he had been stricken [with polio] and people knew he had polio, that had been front-page stories in 1921. But, he did not appear in public in a wheelchair, he had leg braces, he had his pants tailored to cover the braces, he walked with a cane, and he always walked with a strong-armed person next to him. During much of the campaign his son James—who is standing here in the bowler hat—was the one who stood next to him. Especially in the back of the trains, when they would step out, the Roosevelt family would be all around him.

Roosevelt had a nice little way of introducing his family to audiences so that you were all part of the family essentially. He would always end with "and my little boy Jimmy," because Jimmy was two or three inches taller than he was and everybody would laugh at that point, but that would diffuse the issue that he was hanging on to Jimmy's arm really to keep himself standing.

So here is Roosevelt dressed for the inauguration, in his top hat, striped pants, the cane, holding on to Jimmy's arm. Standing next to them is Eleanor Roosevelt, who does not look like she's really happy to be there. Eleanor Roosevelt was a very independent-minded person she and her husband had really developed independent lives, especially in the 1820s. She was very politically active and she really did not look forward to him being President of the United States. She did not campaign very much with him, she hated being on smoke-filled trains—which went very slowly, because of Roosevelt's condition he didn't like the train to speed because he was in a wheelchair in the train. So it went relatively slowly across the country. Then you would stop in these little towns everybody got out the back [to] say pretty much the same things to the same types of crowds. The wife was supposed to stand pleasantly on the side, receive a bouquet of flowers, not say anything. Eleanor was just beside herself. She actually left the campaign trail in mid-October to go back to New York to teach in the school—the private school—where she was teaching American history at the time.

She—I'm not even sure she voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, she may have voted for Norman Thomas. She really did not want him to be President of the United States and you can just see this in her body language and the way she's looking at this point. She had great anxiety over what this was going to do to [him]. The irony is that she became a great first lady. She realized this gave her an opportunity to promote all the issues she was interested in, to travel and to do things. But she didn't know that on March 4, 1933, this was all coming in the future.

Now the reason I have this photograph is because of the young man standing on the edge of the picture, looking very nervous, in striped pants and a cut-away: his name is Mark Trice. Mark Trice came to the U.S. capital during World War I as a pageboy and then he stayed that was not uncommon in those days, people were just drawn to politics. He stayed and he worked for the Sergeant at Arms and he was the Deputy Sergeant at Arms in 1933. He was a Republican appointee.

In February of 1933 the U.S. Senate fired the Sergeant at Arms. He knew that he was losing his job because his party had lost the majority. He was an old newspaper reporter and he wrote a story about what he really thought about Congress to be published in the March edition of a magazine, not realizing that the March edition came out in February. When it came out—and when his critical comments about Congress were in there—the Senate called him forward to demand to know what he had in mind, and then fired him. That made Mark Trice the acting Sergeant at Arms for Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration. He was very young, he was very scared, he was also very Republican, which is interesting that he was in charge of this Democratic president's inauguration.

When I came to work for the Senate in 1976, Mark Trice was still around—he had been a variety of functions, he had been the Republican secretary, he'd been the Secretary of the Senate. He was retired at this point but he couldn't keep away from the capital. He'd come to the Senate Historical Office and tell us stories—just sit there and tell wonderful stories. He gave us this photograph and other photographs of the time. We tried desperate to do an oral history interview with him I really wanted to record what he had to say. But he felt that he had kept the confidences of these politicians for so long that he could not record it. And he literally one day ran out of the office when we tried to tape-record his stories that he was telling us. But this photograph from him, I think, is a great keepsake of that moment [and] it tells you a lot about those people and about the way that they're presenting themselves to the world.

Photographs are part of the documentary evidence, they're not exclusive, you can't—unless you've done the research to find out what's really going on here—you can look at this picture and not really realize how Roosevelt is presenting himself. But if you look closely you can notice that there's just something that's a little odd about the cuffs of his pants, the way they've been cut, and they're there to cover these very heavy steel braces that Roosevelt used. There's actually a small piece of the brace that goes underneath the heel that you can see there. When he's sitting down sometimes you can see a little bit more of it.

Franklin Roosevelt only mentioned his braces once in public. That was in January or February of 1945 when he had just come back from Yalta. He went to speak in the House chamber and instead of standing, he sat at a table—it was the only time he ever sat for a major speech like that. He apologized to the Congress, but he said, "With 10 pounds of heavy steal around my legs, it's easier for me to sit down." That was the sole reference he ever made to those braces. You can actually see the braces in other pictures where he's sitting down. But there's just a slight awkwardness to the pose.

He walked by pushing his legs forward. Actually, when he became ill, he developed his upper body so he had very powerful arms and shoulders. And getting on and off of trains they actually built parallel bars and he swung his way down. So he gave the illusion of walking, but he was never able to walk again after he was stricken with polio in 1921.

There's a misconception that Roosevelt hid his polio. The fact of the matter is every year on his birthday children used to send dimes to the March of Dimes in his honor. They would have pieces on newsreels in the movie theaters they would actually raise money at movie theaters. Roosevelt became a poster person for polio victims, and eventually of course, when he dies, they put his face on the dime because of the March of Dimes. His illness actually contributes to the final solution to coming up with a cure for polio or prevention for polio. But what he was really trying to show was that he was not limited by polio. That he could go around, he could get anywhere, he could do anything, even though he couldn't walk well.

Some of the people thought he was just lame. Of course the editorial cartoonists used to draw pictures of Roosevelt running, jumping, jumping out of an airplane in a parachute, chasing a bull with a pitchfork, doing the types of things that editorial cartoonists like to do. Which people had the sense that Roosevelt could move. People could see Roosevelt standing up in the newsreels and all the rest. Now if you were in a crowd who had come to see Roosevelt, you would see that he was in some cases physically lifted out of a car, you could see that he was not able to walk smoothly, but he was able to get from point A to point B. They would often put potted plants and other things in front of him so you didn't see him from the waist down. But it was clear that he wasn't walking easily and freely at that point.

His favorite recreation was sailing, which of course you sit down while you're sailing. And again, he looked very outdoorsy, very healthy, in that respect. He had been a very agile, healthy person before that—one of the better golfers, for instance, who became president. He actually had a small golf course made for himself that he could golf in in his wheel chair for a while. But he projected an image of being able to move around, not being limited. I think that was the main issue.

I think he's disguising his disability he made a great effort not to draw attention to it. His press secretary, whenever he was asked about it, would just say it's not a story. The Democrats had actually prepared a pamphlet in defense of Roosevelt about his health conditions to put out if it became a public issue [but] they never released it during the campaign. The Republicans and just his general opponents—and that included Democrats who ran against him for the nomination—they conducted a whispering campaign about Roosevelt. A lot of the whispering campaign was, "Well, it's not really polio, it's really syphilis!" or "it’s a mental illness," or "it’s a stroke," like Woodrow Wilson. They had terrible scenarios that were spread around and there were lots of rumors. So one reason why Roosevelt was out being vigorous in his campaign was to dispel those rumors.

Again, the fact is, anybody who was aware what the—had been reading the newspapers at all in the 1920s and 1930s was not surprised about the news that Roosevelt had polio or that he didn't walk easily. But Roosevelt went to great lengths to minimize that for instance, at his inauguration there was a viewing stand and they created a chair for him—which was a long pole with a seat—so that he could appear to be standing up for hours while watching this, [but] he was actually sitting down. That was part of the image that he was projecting.

People pose for photographs, this is a posed photograph: Roosevelt is looking "presidential," Eleanor is looking in despair, poor Jimmy is looking a little nervous in the process, and Mark Trice is scared to death. You can just sort of see there all four of them in that image there.

The Art of the New Deal

Membership in a political party that had prevailed in only two presidential races out of the last nine and was divided on matters both trivial and ideologically significant. Party rules that required a large majority of delegates to gain nomination. A reputation as a lightweight flip-flopper who went back on his word. Despite all of these obstacles, in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the last candidate to emerge from a brokered convention and win the presidency. How did he do it?

Roosevelt’s involvement in presidential politics began in 1920. The Democrats named the 38-year-old, whose most high-profile previous appointment was as Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the Navy, as their vice presidential nominee on the 1920 ticket alongside Ohio Gov. James M. Cox. Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge won decisively that year. The Republicans also carried both houses of Congress. This was a political catastrophe for Cox but gave Roosevelt—a handsome, charismatic, wealthy New Yorker with an easy charm and a beloved last name—a chance to introduce himself to a wider audience.

But then FDR, vacationing in New Brunswick, Canada, at his family’s cottage in the summer of 1921, came down with polio. As the months after the initial illness passed, it became clear that the next few years would have to be devoted to physical rehabilitation. The setback turned into an opportunity for Roosevelt to retreat at a time when his party was adrift. “If a Democrat with presidential ambitions had to come down with the disease, he couldn’t have chosen a better time than the early 1920s,” writes historian H.W. Brands. “The decade after the World War was a wilderness period for the Democrats,” pulled between the Tammany bosses of New York City, who were “wet” (i.e., for the repeal of Prohibition), pro-immigration, and economically conservative, and Southern racists, who were dry, anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, “with western mavericks shouting from the sideline.”

While recuperating, FDR managed to keep himself in the public eye through his charitable work with the Warm Springs Foundation, a therapeutic center for polio sufferers in Georgia appearances at fundraisers for the Democratic Party and organizations like the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and regular correspondence with party leaders and political allies from the Wilson years and the 1920 presidential campaign. In 1924, the year of the party’s disastrously drawn-out “Klanbake” convention at Madison Square Garden, Roosevelt was one of the only people in the party to emerge looking good his speech nominating Al Smith—the Catholic governor of New York with an appealing rags-to-riches life story—was a hit. In 1928, FDR again went to the Democratic convention and delivered the nominating speech this time Smith was nominated on the first ballot. Smith, in turn, drafted Roosevelt to run to replace him as governor of New York Roosevelt was reluctant but eventually agreed in order to retain party support for his presidential ambitions.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as he thought more and more about a presidential run, Roosevelt tried a few strategies to pre-emptively address any concerns about his physical fitness. The conventional wisdom that FDR hid his paralysis from the public is, as Christopher Clausen writes, exaggerated FDR’s mobility limitations were common knowledge at the time. In July 1931, the probable candidate sat for an extensive interview with Liberty magazine, which resulted in an article headlined “Is Franklin D. Roosevelt Physically Fit to Be President?” Roosevelt was photographed with his leg braces, and in the springs at Warm Springs he was examined by a trio of doctors—an orthopedist, a neurologist, and a general practitioner—and was candid with the interviewer, Earle Looker. “As for his limited mobility,” Clausen writes, “he portrayed it as an advantage on the job it forced him to concentrate.”

Though the Democratic Party struggled during this period, by 1931 the Depression had made Herbert Hoover wildly unpopular, and the White House finally seemed within the party’s grasp in the 1932 election. As such, possible nominees came out of the woodwork. Among them was Al Smith, who had lost the 1928 election by a landslide. Smith had come to feel personally affronted by Roosevelt’s rise in New York politics and irritated that he wasn’t more often consulted or considered by the wildly popular governor. Smith didn’t announce his candidacy for the nomination in 1932—at that time, candidates didn’t need to formally declare during the primary season—but instead let it be known that he would (as the New York Times put it) “place his cause in the hands of the people and risk his chances without making an active campaign for the nomination.”

Today’s lengthy primary season is a creature of the postwar era the Democrats held only 17 primaries in 1932. Because it wasn’t traditional for candidates to campaign in the primaries in person, Roosevelt didn’t leave his job and home in New York to petition for votes in the 14 primaries he entered. On the strength of his undeclared campaign, Smith defeated Roosevelt in Massachusetts and New York (and won in New Jersey, a primary Roosevelt did not enter). The Texan Speaker of the House John Nance Garner, riding on the strong endorsement of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, carried California—a disheartening defeat for Roosevelt—and Ohio and Illinois went to favorite-son candidates. The vote was split enough to guarantee a brokered convention FDR’s camp arrived in Chicago with a majority of delegates but not enough to guarantee him the nomination.

Despite his earlier PR efforts, FDR’s health was an issue in the 1932 race. His opponents talked about how bad his paralysis actually was, whispering about whether he would be able to carry out a successful campaign. But FDR’s possible lack of physical vigor wasn’t the only objection to his candidacy. Steven Neal writes that FDR wasn’t wet enough for influential big-city bosses, who wanted a repeal of Prohibition so that they could profit from liquor licenses. Big business—banks and utilities—worried that he would intervene in the economy, to their detriment. And it wasn’t just party stalwarts and businessmen who stood in opposition to his nomination influential pundits like Walter Lippmann, H.L. Mencken, and Heywood Broun argued against his candidacy as well. Lippmann wrote of the former assistant secretary of the Navy and second-term governor of New York: “He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president.” Broun dubbed him “Feather Duster Roosevelt”: a real lightweight.

Those who weren’t convinced of Roosevelt’s essential triviality were worried that he was too far left for a party that had supported many progressive and internationalist social programs under Woodrow Wilson but also harbored a sizeable contingent of people who were economically conservative, isolationist, and segregationist. Historian Donald S. Rothchild describes FDR’s ideology in the early 1930s as a blend of Theodore Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s brands of early-20 th -century progressivism: “In repeated speeches he stressed the need for improving the conditions of the farmer, lowering tariffs, curbing the power of the government to infringe on the rights of the individual, honesty and integrity in law enforcement, conservation of national resources, and cooperation with other nations.”

In one of FDR’s campaign radio addresses, delivered in April 1932 and written by Raymond Moley, one of the three Columbia professors FDR had recently assembled in his famous “Brain Trust” to help him plan solutions to the Depression, the candidate spoke frankly about the class divide in the United States. FDR argued that plans to ameliorate the Depression needed to “build from the bottom up and not the top down…[to] put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

Because of speeches like this one, writes historian Patrick J. Maney, Democrats like John Jacob Raskob, the party chairman, “considered [FDR] to be an out-and-out radical” and sought to block his nomination. Al Smith responded to Roosevelt’s “bottom up” speech with fire: “I will take off my coat and vest and fight to the end against any candidate who persists in any demagogic appeal to the masses…to destroy themselves by setting class against class and rich against poor.”

FDR came into the convention with about 600 delegates, most from the Deep South, New England, and the farming states of the West, where rural voters had responded to Roosevelt’s record as the first governor to take significant action to relieve the suffering caused by the Depression. But he needed 770 votes to secure the two-thirds majority required by party rules at the time. Al Smith was probably the biggest threat to Roosevelt’s nomination. Before the convention proper, financier Bernard Baruch brokered a meeting between Smith and William Gibbs McAdoo, former rivals in the 1924 nomination race, who agreed to collude in order to stop Roosevelt. Though McAdoo, son-in-law of—and secretary of the Treasury under—Woodrow Wilson, had failed to land the Democratic presidential nomination in 1920 and 1924 and had not entered any of the primaries in 1932, he was still (as historian Russell Posner writes) “active and vigorous at 69” and “anxious to return to politics.” McAdoo thought he might be able to gain some traction as a dark horse in Chicago, and so was willing to plot with Smith to stop FDR.

Roosevelt had his own crack team of plotters. His co-campaign managers in 1932 were Louis McHenry Howe, a former reporter and editor who had started working with Roosevelt way back in 1912, and James Aloysius Farley, who managed FDR’s campaigns for New York governor in 1928 and 1930 and was the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party. Farley and Howe were loyal and energetic organizers and entered the convention week in high gear. Howe, in particular, was “frantic with suspicion and worry,” historian Alfred B. Rollins Jr. writes, desperate to nail down every detail in order to retain and woo delegates.

Howe’s best strategies exploited one of FDR’s strengths: his personable voice and manner. The candidate himself would remain at home in Albany, as per the tradition of the time, but Howe came up with several technological remedies for that distance. Before the convention, Rollins writes, Howe mailed every committed Roosevelt delegate a signed portrait and “a one-and-half-minute phonograph record with a personal message from the Governor.” The operative arranged security for the Roosevelt camp in the Chicago Convention Hall and the Congress Hotel, putting a loyal switchboard operator in place to man the phones the Roosevelt team would be using, for fear of eavesdroppers carrying information to opposing camps. (“Secretaries,” Rollins writes, “were briefed on the dangers of dating men who might be working for a rival.”) Farley brought delegates to Howe’s rooms, where Roosevelt spoke with them over the telephone, trying to solicit their support. Howe had a huge card file on the delegates who weren’t pledged to Roosevelt, which he hoped to use in order to sway them at key moments. (Howe’s card on Texan Jesse Jones: “Money—Houston Chronicle, owner of—For himself first, last, and all the time—Ambitious—Promises everybody everything—Double-crosser.” )

Before the delegates even voted for a nominee, the Roosevelt group faced a few preliminary tests. First was a fight over changing the rules of the convention to eliminate the two-thirds policy, which would have allowed the candidate with a simple majority of delegates to carry the day. (Roosevelt eventually lost that one.) Second was the battle over the chairmanship of the convention. (Roosevelt’s man, Sen. Thomas J. Walsh of Montana, won.) Third was the platform, which Rollins calls “a striking Roosevelt victory,” including mention of “public works, federal relief, unemployment and old age insurance, regulation of the financial markets and of public utilities, conservation programs, and ‘a continuous responsibility of government for human welfare.’”

FDR and the Election of 1932 - History

Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidential election on November 8, 1932, defeating President Herbert Hoover. Waiting for the returns that evening, he spoke to the excited crowd at the Biltmore Hotel. The next afternoon, Wednesday, November 9, FDR spoke from the second floor drawing room of Roosevelt House, his first radio address to the American people as president-elect. He immediately did it again, filmed by Fox Movietone News for airing in the nation’s movie theaters. His mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, sits beside him and his two oldest children, Anna and James, stand behind them. His talk is preceded by short vignette of James Farley and Louis Howe, architects of the Democratic victory, trading quips in the Roosevelt drawing room on the second floor at 65th Street.

Selected Transcript:

(07:25): Brief remarks by FDR at the Democratic Headquarters at the Biltmore Hotel on the evening of November 8, 1932

FDR: It looks my friends like a real landslide this time. But we have not yet had the returns from the West Coast and for that reason I am making no official or public statement as yet.

(8:13): James Farley and “Colonel” Louis Howe talking on November 9, 1932 at the Roosevelt’s house.

Farley: Well Louis, it’s all over now. These reports that came in during the evening were all fine and just what we expected. It was only right that we wait until we heard from President Hoover and we have a wire form him now which the governor should see immediately indicating that he concedes the election and congratulates the governor. And I also received a letter a moment ago or a wire a moment ago from Everett Sanders, Chairman of the Republican Committee and he too extends heartiest congratulation to you.

Howe: Well of course Jim, when Sanders gives up it’s all over. But there’s only one thing that worries me a little. How on earth did you manage to lose those five states?

Farley: Well that’s something I’m anxious to know myself.

Howe: Bad teamwork Jim, bad teamwork

(9:17-10:35): FDR speaks to the nation, Nov 9, 1932 from his home on 65 th Street.

FDR: I am glad of this opportunity to extend my deep appreciation to the electorate of this country which gave me yesterday such a great vote of confidence. It is a vote that had more than mere party significance. It transcended party lines and became a national expression of liberal thought. It means I am sure that the masses of the people of the nation firmly believe that there is great and actual possibility in an orderly recovery through a well conceived and actively directed plan of action. Such a plan has been presented to you and you have expressed approval of it. This my friends is most reassuring to me. It shows that there is in this country unbounded confidence in the future of sound agriculture and of honorable industry. This clear mandate shall not be forgotten and I pledge you this and I invite your help in the happy task of restoration.

Campaign Speech

“Tonight climaxes a perfect day or I might say two perfect days.

As we were driving past a grade school some of the tots in the littlest end of the row wondered what it was all about. And one of the teachers leaned over to one of them and said: “There”s Mr. Roosevelt.” And the little tot looked up to her and said: “Yes, but where”s Mr. Hoover.”

The great warmth of your welcome reinforces the obvious fact that so far as carrying on a campaign to get votes, my visit to this state has not been necessary. However, the purpose of coming down here is not to get votes. My visit to the south is to carry out the purposes of my trips to the west, to the coast and indeed throughout the country, which is not so much to be heard as to hear, and not so much to talk to you as to let you talk to me. It was only natural that in coming to the south I should have as an additional objective a visit to Warm Springs where I have spent so many hours and where I have had the good fortune to make so many friendships that I shall always cherish through life.

I want to know about the problems of all this country, east and west and north and south, and for that reason, familiar though I am with conditions in this state, I have come to my second home, my home in the southland.

Because of the growing importance of the attitude of members of the United States congress, it is particularly pleasing that tonight we have had at this gathering a dozen democratic members of the United States senate coming from various sections of the country, and so many of the most efficient members of the house of representatives.

I want to thank them for the generous interest that has prompted their presence because I believe that the executive can never accomplish a program in behalf of the American people without the co-operation, the whole-hearted and sympathetic co-operation of the members of the senate and the house, and it shall ever be my purpose to confer with them and secure their co-operation. Let me suggest to you that after the 4th of March next there will be a new deal in the relationships between the White House and Capitol Hill.

I have had the privilege many years ago of serving in a legislative body. In addition, for four years in the state of New York, faced by a legislature controlled by another party, I have had to meet this problem of the relationship between the executive and the legislature. I am confident after the 4th of March next that the American people will find a greater co-operation between these two great branches of government–a better relationship in which not only democrats but republicans as well take part.

I want also to take this opportunity to express my sense of happiness that the state of Georgia, despite the depression, has been making distinct progress. This campaign is long on Jeremiahs, so much so in fact that we are likely to overlook the fact that progress is being made here and there in spite of tremendous obstacles.

This is brought to my mind very sharply by considering what you have done in the state of Georgia in the direction of progress is a sound, common sense management of public affairs under your fine and progressive governor, Richard B. Russell.

I should like to take this opportunity to say, loud enough to be heard in Washington, that even in hard times it is possible to have a balanced budget, and Governor Russell has done it, and I want to say further that Governor Russell has done this by cutting expenditures rather than by loading the people with more taxation. And I want to say that loud enough to be heard in Washington, too.

And I want to say also, loud enough to be heard in that section of Washington in which the White House and the treasury are located, that Governor Russell did not wait for a political campaign to start considering how to get within his income.

In spite of the rigid economy practiced by Governor Russell, he has made excellent progress in his state highway system. He has moved with a sure intelligence in the direction toward the consolidation of the departments of state government. And he has also found it possible to promote a growing sense of responsibility of the people of the state towards social welfare and health work of all kinds.

I learn–and this I get not from Governor Russell but from welfare workers of the state–that he has been able by persuasive and co-operative action to get the local governments of this state to progress in the direction of more efficient economical and humane administration. This is a point where I want to make special reference to my own statements made many times in this campaign, that it is the duty of an executive to exercise his influence, even where he has no legal authority to bring about economy in local government–economy that sacrifices no essential service to the people.

I come here at the beginning of a Community Chest campaign. I have already said that there are three things that chart the course of social responsibility. First, the duty rests on the community to do everything in its power that’s why we have Community Chests. Then it is up to the state government. And then I made it clear that the final responsibility rests on the national government.

It is the duty of a chief executive, whether of state or national government, to utilize information in his possession and his many instrumentalities for the promulgation of this information.

If the Governor of Georgia and the Governor of New York can do this, the president of the United States can do it, and I have made that as the first and basic principle of lifting from the back of the farmer some of his load of taxation.

I wish that the government at Washington had followed this policy, because, while it has spent millions to gather information, it has been so confused by the mass of this information that it has had no opportunity to know what it all means. I believe that we ought to have in Washington a little less research and a little more thinking fewer figures and more ideas fewer commissions and more leadership. We ought to have less vacillation and more action.

Consistent with this idea of comprehensive planning and action rather than everlasting digging into statistical details, I wish to outline tonight the cardinal points in my agricultural program. Every country or most countries do have a national program. It is to this end that I have suggested that our department of agriculture, while it has dome many admirable things, has not been directed during this administration by any general comprehension of what a nationally planned agricultural program really is. The time has come to eliminate the political secretaries of agriculture and to substitute for them a secretary whom the farmers and the foresters will recognize as one of their own. We are certainly paying enough for the department of agriculture to get something more useful than we are now getting.

I have already proposed its reorganization. I am going to insist that we get more service for the farmers for less money.

The first principle of my agricultural program I have already mentioned. It consists of lifting from the back of the farmer some of the crushing burden of taxation that he is carrying.

The second also I have already mentioned. It relates to the farmer’s burden of debt. One of the basic planks in my farm platform is that the situation with regards to farm mortgages be improved to the advantage of the farmer who is struggling to ward off foreclosure and ejectment from his home. I have made that clear in detail, not only at Topeka, but last week in Springfield. I have called attention to the necessity of constructive action in this connection and in Springfield I said that the seven or more uncoordinated activities of the government with references to farm mortgages be brought into a complete harmonious plan, consistent with the general farm program that I have been discussing.

The situation that exists with reference to the foreclosure of mortgages by the land banks is one that has not only aroused my sincere sympathy, but has inspired within me a determination to fight for a practical remedy. The president of the United States in his Des Moines speech stated that the administration has endeavored to provide by appropriating $125,000,000 to purchase additional stock in the federal land banks of the system. It is only fair to say that the bill appropriating funds to purchase additional stock in the federal land bank was introduced in the house of representatives by a democratic representative from the state of Alabama, Mr. Stegall and in the senate the amount was increased from $100,000,000 to $125,000,000 by an amendment offered by another democrat from the state of Alabama, Senator Hugo Black. However, the administration of the funds thus appropriated was necessarily left entirely to the appointees of this administration, and the farmers of America have been justly disappointed in the manner in which it has been administered.

At Des Moines, the president stated that not more than 1 per cent of the mortgages held by the land banks were being foreclosed. Percentages may mislead one. The farmers of the United States know that today thousands of mortgages upon the farms of the United States are being foreclosed. The president stated that most of those mortgages now being foreclosed represented cases where the farmers were willing to have such mortgages foreclosed. I think I know the mind and the heart of the American farmer, and it is inconceivable to me that the president of the United States can believe that the farmers of the United States are willing and anxious to have foreclosed the mortgages upon their homes in which their fathers and mothers lived and died and in which their children were born.

If the president is sincerely of the opinion that these farmers are willing to be driven from their homes we cannot hope for any enthusiastic action upon his part to stop the foreclosures. I know that the last thing upon earth that a farmer wants is to be foreclosed, to give up his home, and it will be our aim to provide a practical and immediate remedy for the intolerable situation now existing.

Another principle of farm relief is to make it possible for the farmer to get a larger return for his product. I believe that we owe it to the farmers of America to have as secretary of agriculture an agricultural leader instead of a political leader.

A basic purpose of my farm program is to raise prices on certain agricultural products by some form of what the farmers in this country know as a tariff benefit. There is nothing mysterious about this and nothing visionary. It is recognized by the leaders not only of agricultural but of the industrial world as well that this is a perfectly sound method in fact, it is one of the essential methods to lead agriculture out of the present depression, and thus to lead to restoration of industry as well.

I want to make one point very clear, both in the case of readjustment of the tariff so that the farmer will really get a benefit, and in the temporary measures that I propose to be used before that measure becomes operative, the increase in prices does not, as in the case of Mr. Hoover’s farm board, come out of the public treasury.

The American people know that as a result of this experiment of Mr. Hoover, $500,000,000 of the money of the taxpayers was squandered large surpluses of wheat, cotton, tobacco, were accumulated which hung over the markets like a sword, depressing the price of these basic agricultural products.

Though this was apparent to all thoughtful men, and though bills were pending to correct the situation and prevent these ruinous so-called stabilization operations, absolutely nothing was done by the president or the party in power in a legislative way to prevent it.

The Democratic Party in its platform declares:

’We condemn the extravagance of the farm board, its disastrous action which made the government a speculator of farm products and the unsound policy of restricting agricultural products to the demands of domestic markets.’

This has had this splendid effect of causing an awakening in the White House and forced the president, for political expediency, in the closing days of a campaign, to confess this abject failure of his experiments, and to promise that after the election he will see what can be done to put an end to these false stabilization operations of which the nation complains and by which the farmers have been destroyed.

The great manufacturing and business centers of our country have commenced to realize that their own prosperity depends on the prosperity of the agricultural centers of the country, and the purchasing power of its people. It is now well known, in fact even by the republican leaders, although they refrain from discussing the subject, that the depression in the manufacturing industry of the country is due chiefly to the fact that agricultural products generally have been selling below the cost of production, and thereby destroyed the purchasing power in the domestic market of nearly half of all our people. We are going to restore the purchasing power of the farmer.

For over a year I have discussed with leading democrats, including Governor Russell, the broad subject of land use, especially as it applies to the older states east of the Mississippi. The problem of these older states is in most cases identical, because in the rush many generations ago to settle the land millions of acres were cleared for agricultural purposes where they should have been left to produce forest crops.

You and I know that in very many sections of Georgia, as in very many sections of New York and other states, this type of land has been unproductive, and has either been abandoned as farms or is today being cultivated at a loss.

That is why I am a believer just as much in country planning as I am in city planning. It is time for every one of the older states to survey their entire acreage for the purpose of determining the best future use of the land. In most of the states east of the Mississippi, it undoubtedly will be determined that somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of existing farm acreage now used for agricultural crops should be abandoned as such and converted into use for tree crops.

Everyone knows that we are using up our American timber supply much faster than the annual growth of new timber. Therefore, unless we willing to face a day not so far distant when we shall become a nation dependent on importing the greater part of our lumber from other nations, we must take immediate steps greatly to increase our home supply.

It is common sense, and not fantasy, to invest money in tree crops just as much as to grow annual agricultural crops. The return on the investment is just as certain in the case of growing trees as it is in the case of growing potatoes, or cotton, or wheat, or corn–and judging by present-day fluctuations in the prices of agricultural crops the tree crop is often a safer investment.

Because we are a young nation–because apparently limitless forests have stood at our door, we have declined up to now to think of the future. Other nations whose primeval forests were cut off a thousand years ago have been growing tree crops for many hundreds of years.

I am convinced that herein lies a fertile field, not only for the legitimate investment of capital, but also for the employment of labor.

There are, of course, a few childish minds who think of reforestation or the growing of tree crops as a process of setting out little seedling trees which have been grown in nurseries. Anybody who has advanced beyond the kindergarten stage knows better. Almost all practical commercial reforestation is in its origin an act of nature and not of man. The winds of heaven carry the seeds from trees that have already come to maturity, scatter them over the ground, and the warm earth and the rain and the sun do the rest. The use of the labor of man enters into the picture when it becomes necessary to eliminate the less valuable types of trees among the young growth, to cull out the crooked trees, the decayed trees or the undergrowing trees and to prevent ravages of fire in the growing forests. These are things which any beginner in agriculture or in forestry should know, and, I may add, are things which my secretary of agriculture will know.

Let us remember that the federal government owns hundreds of thousands of acres of so-called national forest along the chain of the Appalachian system. We all know that a large part of this national forest consists of second growth, third growth or fourth growth, cut-over land, which is now growing up, like Topsy, into a heterogeneous conglomeration of all kinds of trees–some good, some bad and some indifferent.

We also know, as a practical matter, that unless something is done with this land the timber on it will have comparatively little value when it comes to maturity. It needs the aid of man to clear out the dead wood and encourage only the growth that will best serve the national need in the days to come. Is there any good reason, financial, common sense, or otherwise why the federal government should not undertake the proper care of its own property? Here again is another field for the employment of great numbers of our citizens.

This afternoon an agriculture-forestry committee conferred with me on the vital necessity of a national agricultural policy. Here are two short paragraphs from its report which are worth hearing in every home in the land:

’The basic economic interest, agriculture, which includes forestry, is prostrated, carrying with it the superstructure of finance and industry but far more than these is the destruction of human values–those human values which in reality are the spirit of America–the reason for the vision of its founders.

Results are the expression of causes. When there is starvation of spirit and body in a land of abundant natural resources, a land of plenty, no further evidence is needed of failure of the powers entrusted with control of government.’

The last sentence will express the deep understanding which the great majority of voters of this nation have of the principle issue of this national campaign.

During these weeks I have made it abundantly clear that I propose a national agricultural policy which will direct itself not only to the better use of our hundreds of millions of acres of every type of land in the United States, but also to the rehabilitation of that half of our population which is living on or directly concerned with the products of the soil.

Our object must be the rebuilding of the rural civilization of America. Our object must be all-inclusive–a constructive program attacking the enemy on every front.

Opposed to this constructive program is the administration’s doctrine of despair. The president, in his speech of acceptance, preached this doctrine of despair to the suffering farmers of the country. He said in substance that the farmer must wait the long weary process of industrial reconstruction before aid can come to him. He attempted to close the door of hope with that doctrine of despair. In fact, since the very beginning of this depression, he has opposed substantially every proposal of the farm leaders of this country for legislative relief, and sometimes with the greatest and most unbecoming bitterness.

After concealing from the people of the country the constantly sinking condition of industry and the growing unemployment, he opposed the democratic measures introduced in congress to meet the destitution and give employment to labor. He still contended, as he does now, that there is no hope for the farmer or the laborer until prosperity returns through the slow process of world reconstruction.

Whenever a remedy is proposed to increase the price of farm products or reduce unemployment in our country, he satisfied himself by engaging in ridicule and preaching the doctrine of despair. I do not believe in the doctrine of despair.

Now, my friends, let me make clear in as emphatic words as I can find, the fundamental issue in this campaign. Mr. Hoover believes that farmers and workers must wait for general recovery, until some miracle occurs by which the factory wheels revolve again. No one knows the formula of this miracle. I, on the other hand, am saying over and over that I believe that we can restore prosperity here in this country by re-establishing the purchasing power of half of the people of the country, that when this gigantic market of 50,000,000 people is able to purchase goods, industry will start to turn, and the millions of men and women now walking the streets will be employed.

I am, moreover, enough of an American to believe that such a restoration of prosperity in this country will do more to effectuate world recovery than all of the promotional schemes of lending money to backward and crippled countries could do in generations. In this respect I am for America first.

This doctrine I set forth when my campaign really began back in April. I said in a speech then that we had forgotten this potential market of the agricultural population, and that the true interest of this country was to return to this forgotten market. We have, as in the old story of the Holy Grail, looked beyond the seas for the riches that were lying unnoticed at our very feet.

When we come to recognize this simple fact, when we get back to plain common sense, when we stop worshipping false gods and chasing rainbows, happiness and prosperity will come to American workers and farmers and businessmen–to the American people.

When we stop listening to the apology that ’things might have been worse’ and give our whole-hearted support to those who preach the gospel that through action they are going to make things better, then and only then will America resume her march to a better day.”

Section Summary

Franklin Roosevelt was a wealthy, well-educated, and popular politician whose history of polio made him a more sympathetic figure to the public. He did not share any specifics of his plan to bring the country out of the Great Depression, but his attitude of optimism and possibility contrasted strongly with Hoover’s defeated misery. The 1932 election was never really in question, and Roosevelt won in a landslide. During the four-month interregnum, however, Americans continued to endure President Hoover’s failed policies, which led the winter of 1932–1933 to be the worst of the Depression, with unemployment rising to record levels.

When Roosevelt took office in March 1933, he infused the country with a sense of optimism. He still did not have a formal plan but rather invited the American people to join him in the spirit of experimentation. Roosevelt did bring certain beliefs to office: the belief in an active government that would take direct action on federal relief, public works, social services, and direct aid to farmers. But as much as his policies, Roosevelt’s own personality and engaging manner helped the country feel that they were going to get back on track.

Review Question

Answer to Review Question

  1. Roosevelt recruited his “Brains Trust” to advise him in his inception of a variety of relief and recovery programs. Among other things, the members of this group pushed for a new national tax policy addressed the nation’s agricultural problems advocated an increased role for the federal government in setting wages and prices and believed that the federal government could temper the boom-and-bust cycles that rendered the economy unstable. These advisors helped to craft the legislative programs that Roosevelt presented to Congress.


Brains Trust an unofficial advisory cabinet to President Franklin Roosevelt, originally gathered while he was governor of New York, to present possible solutions to the nations’ problems among its prominent members were Rexford Tugwell, Raymond Moley, and Adolph Berle

interregnum the period between the election and the inauguration of a new president when economic conditions worsened significantly during the four-month lag between Roosevelt’s win and his move into the Oval Office, Congress amended the Constitution to limit this period to two months

Watch the video: 1932: Hoover, FDR, and the New Deal Campaign


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