March 4, 1933
It was eighty years ago today....
At 1:08 PM, eighty years ago today, Franklin Roosevelt placed his left hand upon an old and cherished family bible which was opened to the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians:
"And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
So was inaugurated (in my humble opinion) the president who is second only to Lincoln in terms of sheer greatness. Some historians ague that he is America's greatest chief executive. I'm more than willing to go down that road, too.
In his excellent (and highly recommended) book on the New Deal's first one-hundred days, "The Defining Moment", Jonathon Alter describes vividly what FDR was facing in the weeks leading up to his swearing in:
"The banking crisis peaked just before his inauguration. With the upper Midwest in turmoil, Cleveland banks began to fold, threatening the Ohio banking structure. New Jersey passed an emergency law limiting withdrawals, causing a spread of panicky behavior in the East. In a three-day period starting February 23, Indiana, Arkansas and Maryland declared holidays [in order to close the banks], kicking off a round of more closures the following week. By Saturday, February 25, the Hoover White House received word to expect rioting on Monday in Detroit. where the banks had been closed for nearly two weeks. People couldn't buy gasoline, milk, or bread. Railroad cars stayed on sidings. Thousands of automobiles were abandoned, out of gas in the middle of the road. The only good news was that this lack of transportation made starting a riot harder."
Twenty-five percent of the American workforce was out of a job - not underemployed mind you - completely out of work. By the end of his second term, the unemployment figures had been cut in half. But it would take the massive rush of war spending in the early forties to end what is now called the "Great Depression".
"The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to their ancient truths. The measure of restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
Franklin Roosevelt saved this country. When he was finished saving the nation that he loved so well, he set about the task of saving the world. At the beginning of his fourth term the toll could be seen etched in his face; he was exhausted and mortally ill. On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, while chatting lightheartedly with two female cousins at his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia, the president collapsed and died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was sixty-three years old.
There is now a sick form of revisionism that is trying to get us to swallow the nonsensical notion that he destroyed America, that he made the Depression worse; that he was a dictator; that he was a racist; that he let the attack on Pearl Harbor happen....all of it bunk. The propagandists really need to keep to the facts. As I said - and I cannot emphasize this enough - Franklin Roosevelt saved this country. Deal with it.
From the final paragraph from chapter forty of Jonathon Alter's excellent biography of FDR:
"Roosevelt's point was plain: Government counts, and in the right hands, it can be made to work. Strong federal action, not just private voluntary efforts and the invisible hand of the marketplace, was required to help those stricken in an emergency. The American people expected and deserved leadership in addressing their hardships, not just from state and local authorities but from the White House. This fundamental insight would guide politicians and help millions of people in the years ahead, but it was lost on others, who ignored the lessons of Franklin Roosevelt at their peril".
Couldn't have said it better if I tried.
I imagine that I'll be spending a good deal of the rest of the day thinking about and savoring the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. So many of the things we now take for granted would not have been possible without him. You would think the American people would be grateful. Most of them can't even recognize his face. As far as I can tell there has been no mention of this milestone anniversary thus far today in the electronic or print media. America has forgotten its pre-Roosevelt history. That is the reason we were doomed to repeat it. And repeat it we did. Pretty sad.
Oh, and did I mention? By all accounts he was a nice guy.
Here are a handful of links to a few pieces I wrote on this site over the years about this great and remarkable American:
The New Deal at Eighty, Nixon at 100
Obama Could Learn from FDR:
Here is a YouTube link to watch a film of President Roosevelt's first inauguration, March 4, 1933, eighty years ago today:
It doesn't get any better than the Frankster!