The Republican president, Herbert Hoover, was personally blamed for failing to deal with the consequences of the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. The Great Depression that followed was the most severe economic depression America had ever seen, and the whole world entered a state of poverty and hunger. Following the election in November 1932, Hoover was replaced by the Democratic leader, Franklin D Roosevelt, who aimed to tackle the Depression by introducing the ‘New Deal’. This consisted of a plan to stabilise the banking system, get Americans back to work, and to get American industry and agriculture back on their feet. Roosevelt reassured American people by saying, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror”.
He received 57% of votes, whereas Hoover received 40%, and most significantly, he won in 42 out of the total 48 states in the USA, showing he had the majority support in most areas of the USA. Every group in American society was affected by the Depression, economically and psychologically. Many people lost confidence in themselves and the USA, with its proud record of economic expansion in previous decades. Unemployment rates shot up and 13 million people were left without work. The entire American banking system was on the edge of collapse and between 1929 and 1932 alone 5,000 banks went out of business. Many Americans died from starvation and illnesses related to lack of nutrition. Farmers were hit particularly badly by the Depression.
Many were unable to pay mortgages or repay loans to banks and they were driven off their land with no option but to pack their bags and live on the streets. When sheriffs came to seize property, huge gangs of farmers forced them to retreat with the use of pitchforks and nooses. To add to their struggle, over-farming had caused the soil to become infertile and in the early 1930s, droughts and strong winds blew away the fertile topsoil, leading to totally ruined farms and a destroyed livelihood for the farmers. Suffering was also predominantly bad for the children of the unemployed; many were short of proper clothing and an adequate diet.
Life was also unbearable for the homeless unemployed, who constructed houses out of scrap metal and boxes in the rougher parts of town on the edge of towns or in cities. These places became known as ‘Hoovervilles’. Hoover and his government did make several attempts to deal with the Depression in 1929; he offered over $4,000 million for major building projects in the construction industries to provide new jobs, he held conferences with business leaders to get agreements that they would maintain production and employment levels, and he cut taxes so that people had more money to spend.
The government tried to help farmers by buying up food at above market prices, but this encouraged farmers to produce more rather than encouraging them to grow less. Hoover was elected by the Republicans to carry out the policy of as little interference from the government as possible, however, once in power, he found it difficult to adapt his policies to deal with the deepening and serious crisis.
Hoover expanded government lending and encouraged public work schemes, but he could not abandon the principles of self-help and voluntary cooperation to consider more direct action instead. Many historians have later discovered that direct action was a desperate requirement and some blame this to be one of the main reasons for Hoover’s failure to deal with the Depression effectively. A particular event that severely damaged people’s belief in Hoover was his actions over the war veterans. After the First World War, the government was paying annual sums of money to the war veterans who had suffered disabilities.
It had been agreed that in 1945 they should be paid a ‘bonus’, however, with the economic situation as it was in the early 1930s, they needed that bonus immediately. In June 1932 roughly 20,000 people marched to Washington and camped outside. Many refused to go home and some moved their squat closer to the White House. Hoover feared an outbreak of violence and called in troops to use tanks, infantry and tear gas to move the squatters and destroy their camps. Many protesters were injured and some even died from the effects of the gas, causing Hoover to lose a huge amount of public sympathy from this major political error.
Franklin D Roosevelt managed to create the impression for the American people that he would act on his policies, and not just promise them. Roosevelt aimed, mainly, to get American industry and farming businesses back on their feet, but also to get Americans back to work, provide relief for the sick, old and unemployed, and find a way to protect people’s savings and properties. Within the first 100 days of his presidency, Roosevelt started a wide range of programmes to deal with the banking crisis, restore confidence in the stock exchange, help agriculture and industry, and give hope to the homeless and unemployed.
Before Roosevelt was elected, Hoover had a policy that aimed to reduce the amount of involvement the government had in people’s lives, however, all of Roosevelt’s policies involved the government acting much more in important areas of life than American governments had done previously. There were many ways in which Roosevelt acted on his campaign promises. He used the radio effectively and made public speeches and appearances, giving hope to many Americans and gaining their trust. He was reassuring and helped people to believe everything was going to be alright.
Roosevelt dealt with the banking crisis by introducing the Emergency Banking Relief Bill which brought all banks under federal control; Roosevelt had given the banking system much needed time and space to avoid panic. He also went on a grand train tour weeks before the 1932 election and attacked the attitudes of Hoover and the Republicans. In a 20,800km campaign trip he made 16 major speeches and 60 from the back of his train. Additionally, Roosevelt introduced some forms of practical support to the public. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was responsible for flood control, building dams and constructing new towns and the National Recovery Administration was an agency that negotiated with the major industries to create fair prices, wages and working hours.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) aimed to reduce farm production and boost farm prices, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) offered short-term work to young men on conservation projects and the Public Works Administration (PWA) constructed schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Overall, I do not believe Hoover’s attempts to deal with the effects of the 1929 Depression were a complete failure, mainly because he was unexpectedly faced with one of the most severe economic crises the world had ever seen.
Roosevelt’s promises to help reform the American economy were very popular with the American people and were one of the foremost reasons he was victorious in the election. The fact that he actually delivered on his promises ensured his popularity continued. Hoover had desperately tried to stick to his original strategies without changing them sufficiently to deal with the deepening crisis and backing out on his word, when really what he should have done was to tackle the situation using more direct actions. In conclusion, I think that the main reason why Roosevelt was elected the new president in 1932 was because of his effective actions to assure and comfort the American public that a better and more stable economic future was to come.