Roosevelt - The Great Depression

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History: Roosevelt - The Great Depression

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, came from a wealthy New York family and was educated at Harvard University. He entered politics in 1910 and elected Governor of New York State in 1928 after surviving a bout of polio.

The Democrats choose Roosevelt as their candidate to oppose Hoover in the 1932 Presidential Election. During the campaign he said, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a New Deal for the American people". He promised to use government money and power to rebuild the economy.

Roosevelt won with a landslide victory. One of the main reasons for this was that the previous President, Hoover, had not controlled, or attempts to help the economic downfall of the United States. Hoover thought matters would right themselves and therefore took little action. In 1932 Hoover did eventually find some money to help a number of struggling banks and businesses, but he refused to set up federal relief programmes to aid the unemployed. As the Depression dragged on, a protest movement developed among the hungry and the unemployed. Many Americans had lost confidence in President Hoover and were looking for new leadership that arrived in the form of Roosevelt.


Once elected, Roosevelt had many problems facing him and his party that the American people expected him to solve.

  • Most of the populace was unemployed. Over 12 million Americans did not have a job, and this figure was increasing by 12,000 every day. Families relied on charity to stay alive and breadlines were common in every city.
  • Over 1 million people were homeless. In 1932, 250,000 Americans stopped paying their mortgages and were evicted from their homes.
    Because of this, many became 'hobos' or tramps while others moved to waste ground to build huts from scraps of wood and metal, these unhealthy camps were known as 'Hoovervilles' after Herbert Hoover.
  • Total economic collapse followed – With so many people out of work the cities could not afford to buy all the food the farmers produced; and by 1932 – 1 in 2 farm owners had been evicted.
  • Many veterans living in poverty demanded bonuses immediately. Their annoyance at not receiving their money came to a head when, during summer 1932, veterans from all over the country went to Washington capital to protest. Many hijacked trains to get there and fought with police who tried to stop them.
    In June of the same year, more than 20,000 veterans had arrived in Washington and set up a Hooverville opposite the White House.
    Congress voted against paying the veterans their bonuses and Hoover ordered the army to evict the veterans from their Hooverville.
    The army thought it was necessary to bring in 4 companies of infantry, 4 troops of cavalry, a machine gun squadron and 6 tanks to disperse the veterans.
    In the ensuing chaos 2 veterans died and 1000 were injured.
  • Bank failures were another large problem. During the depression, many people with savings in the bank took the money out to stay alive.
    This led to new problems; small banks did not have enough money to pay their savers and went bankrupt.
    After a bank failed, savers with deposits in other banks rushed to take out their savings from other banks, leading to more banks going bankrupt- A total of 1616 banks in 1932.
  • Many people affected by the depression organised protests in hope to improve conditions.
    In Iowa, the farmers union organised strikes to stop food reaching markets. This aimed to create food shortage and increase food prices.
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Roosevelt took a tough stance towards these areas of difficulty, and in his inauguration speech he stated that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". To affect change in America, Roosevelt need more power than he already had. In 1917 congress had allowed President Wilson to change laws without asking and this 'trading with the enemy" act was still effective when Roosevelt came into power. Roosevelt realised he could use this act to speed the healing process for America's economy.

Roosevelt proposed, and Congress passed, a series of measures designed to provide relief for the unemployed ...

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