In his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt steered 15 major bills through Congress. This flood of legislation restructured faulty market practices and laid the groundwork for years of New Deal reforms to bring the economy out of the Great Depression.
Political commentator Walter Lippmann was stunned. Before Roosevelt's inauguration in March, "we were a congeries of disorderly, panic-stricken mobs and factions," he wrote. "In the 100 days from March to June we became again an organized nation confident of our power to provide for our own security and to control our destiny."
By early May, the administration had ended Prohibition; reworked the veteran pension system; transferred $1 billion from federal budgets to emergency projects such as forestry jobs; shut down the nation's banks and passed the Emergency Banking Act; revised a bill to authorize $2 billion in Federal Land Bank bonds to aid farmers; and undertaken a credit-relief program for small-home owners.
Other pending bills included one to increase transparency of interstate stock and bond purchases, a railroad bill to coordinate federal transportation, and a farm bill to restore prices and reduce foreclosures. The administration also outlined its public-works program, emphasizing projects that could be started quickly, that would create the most jobs and that would serve the largest number of people.
Roosevelt also advanced an unprecedented effort to achieve federal coordination and control of manufacturing. Supporters of the National Industrial Recovery Act said it would increase employment, moderate swings between overproduction and underproduction, and restore selling prices to profitable levels. Others feared it would lead to socialism and the death of free enterprise.
The effects of the legislation soon took hold. In Michigan, one emblematic family moved back to the same house they had lost a few months before, re-buying it with a federal home loan. In Colorado and elsewhere, workers joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, earning $30 a month to build trails and plant trees.
As more Americans went back to work, and the economic outlook improved, the New York Times wrote:
"Everybody in the administration is having the time of his life."
(Philip Scranton is a Board of Governors professor of the history of industry and technology at Rutgers University, Camden, and the editor-in-chief of Enterprise and Society. He writes "This Week in the Great Depression" for the Echoes blog. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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Philip Scranton at email@example.com