History 232 Reader Sections 1 and 2 Dr. Brett Schmoll Fall 2008

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History 232 Reader Sections 1 and 2

Dr. Brett Schmoll Fall 2008


  1. Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My Captain!”

  2. Jourdon Anderson Letter to Former Master

  3. Excerpt--Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of

the Cities

  1. Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism"

  2. Two Excerpts--Upton Sinclair The Jungle

  3. Two Poems by Langston Hughes

  4. FDR and Great Depression

  5. Journey Into a Dark Past (J. Internment)

  6. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  7. Two Excerpts--Anne Moody’s

Coming of Age in Mississippi

  1. Howl, Allen Ginsburg

  2. Black Veterans in Vietnam

(War within War)

  1. Immigration Documentaries

  2. Giuliani Essay on 9/11


READING 1) Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass.  1900.

O Captain! My Captain!


O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;


The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;


The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,


While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:


    But O heart! heart! heart!


      O the bleeding drops of red,


        Where on the deck my Captain lies,


          Fallen cold and dead.




O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;


Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;


For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;


For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;


    Here Captain! dear father!


      This arm beneath your head;


        It is some dream that on the deck,


          You’ve fallen cold and dead.




My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;


My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;


The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;


From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;


    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!


      But I, with mournful tread,


        Walk the deck my Captain lies,


          Fallen cold and dead.



READING 2) A Former Slave Master asks for his Slave to Return:

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “The colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S. — Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me. From your old servant, Jourdon Anderson
Source: Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865.

READING 3) Lincoln Steffens From The Shame of the Cities

Perhaps the most influential of the muckrakers was Lincoln Steffens. Steffens' articles were published in McClure’s magazine in 1902 and 1903 and then collected in The Shame of the Cities, published in 1904.

Now, the typical American citizen is the business man. The typical business man is a bad citizen; he is busy. If he is a "big business man" and very busy, he does not neglect, he is busy with politics, oh, very busy and very businesslike. I found him buying boodlers in St. Louis, defending grafters in Minneapolis, originating corruption in Pittsburgh, sharing with bosses in Philadelphia, deploring reform in Chicago, and beating good government with corruption funds in New York. He is a self-righteous fraud, this big business man. He is the chief source of corruption, and it were a boon if he would neglect politics. But he is not the business man that neglects politics; that worthy is the good citizen, the typical business man. He too is busy, he is the one that has no use and therefore no time for politics. When his neglect has permitted bad government to go so far that he can be stirred to action, he is unhappy, and he looks around for a cure that shall be quick, so that he may hurry back to the shop.

Naturally, too, when he talks politics, he talks shop. His patent remedy is quack; it is business. "Give us a business man," he says ("like me," he means). "Let him introduce business methods into politics and government; then I shall be left alone to attend to my business." There is hardly an office from United States Senator down to Alderman in any part of the country to which the business man has not been elected; yet politics remains corrupt, government pretty bad, and the selfish citizen has to hold himself in readiness like the old volunteer firemen to rush forth at any hour, in any weather, to prevent the fire; and he goes out sometimes and he puts out the fire (after the damage is done) and he goes back to the shop sighing for the business man in politics. The business man has failed in politics as he has in citizenship. Why? Because politics is business.

That’s what’s the matter with it. That’s what’s the matter with everything,—art , literature, religion, journalism, law, medicine,—they’re all business, and all—as you see them. Make politics a sport, as they do in England, or a profession, as they do in Germany, and we’ll have—well, something else than we have now,—if we want it, which is another question. But don’t try to reform politics with the banker, the lawyer, and the dry-goods merchant, for these are business men and there are two great hindrances to their achievement of reform: one is that they are different from, but no better than, the politicians; the other is that politics is not "their line". …

The commercial spirit is the spirit of profit, not patriotism; of credit, not honor; of individual gain, not national prosperity; of trade and dickering, not principle. "My business is sacred " says the business man in his heart. "Whatever prospers my business, is good; it must be. Whatever hinders it, is wrong; it must be. A bribe is bad, that is, it is a bad thing to take; but it is not so bad to give one, not if it is necessary to my business." "Business is business" is not a political sentiment, but our politician has caught it. He takes essentially the same view of the bribe, only he saves his self-respect by piling all his contempt upon the bribe-giver and he has the great advantage of candor. "It is wrong, maybe," he says, ‘but if a rich merchant can afford to do business with me for the sake of a convenience or to increase his already great wealth, I can afford, for the sake of living, to meet him half way. I make no pretensions to virtue, not even on Sunday."

And as for giving bad government or good, how about the merchant who gives bad goods or good goods, according to the demand? But there is hope, not alone despair, in the commercialism of our politics. If our political leaders are to be always a lot of political merchants, they will supply any demand we may create. All we have to do is to establish a steady demand for good government. The boss has us split up into parties. To him parties are nothing but means to his corrupt ends. He ‘bolts" his parry, but we must not; the bribe-giver changes his party, from one election to another, from one county to another, from one city to another, but the honest voter must not.

Why? Because if the honest voter cared no more for his party than the politician and the grafter, their the honest vote would govern, and that would be bad—for graft. It is idiotic, this devotion to a machine that is used to take our sovereignty from us.

If we would leave parties to the politicians, and would vote not for the party, not even for men, but for the city, and the State, and the nation, we should rule parties, and cities, and States, and nation. If we would vote in mass on the more promising ticket, or, if the two are equally bad, would throw out the party that is in, and wait till the next election and then throw out the other parry that is in—then, I say, the commercial politician would feel a demand for good government and he would supply it. That process would take a generation or more to complete, for the politicians now really do not know what good government is. But it has taken as long to develop bad government, and the politicians know what that is. If it would not "go," they would offer something else, and, if the demand were steady, they, being so commercial, would "deliver the goods."

READING 4) Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism:" (August 31, 1910).

READING 5) The Jungle, Upton Sinclair: Two Excerpts:

Now Antanas Rudkus was the meekest man that God ever put on earth; and so Jurgis found it a striking confirmation of what the men all said, that his father had been at work only two days before he came home as bitter as any of them, and cursing Durham's with all the power of his soul. For they had set him to cleaning out the traps; and the family sat round and listened in wonder while he told them what that meant. It seemed that he was working in the room where the men prepared the beef for canning, and the beef had lain in vats full of chemicals, and men with great forks speared it out and dumped it into trucks, to be taken to the cooking room. When they had speared out all they could reach, they emptied the vat on the floor, and then with shovels scraped up the balance and dumped it into the truck. This floor was filthy, yet they set Antanas with his mop slopping the "pickle" into a hole that connected with a sink, where it was caught and used over again forever; and if that were not enough, there was a trap in the pipe, where all the scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught, and every few days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!

This was the experience of Antanas; and then there came also Jonas and Marija with tales to tell. Marija was working for one of the independent packers, and was quite beside herself and outrageous with triumph over the sums of money she was making as a painter of cans. But one day she walked home with a pale-faced little woman who worked opposite to her, Jadvyga Marcinkus by name, and Jadvyga told her how she, Marija, had chanced to get her job. She had taken the place of an Irishwoman who had been working in that factory ever since any one could remember. For over fifteen years, so she declared. Mary Dennis was her name, and a long time ago she had been seduced, and had a little boy; he was a cripple, and an epileptic, but still he was all that she had in the world to love, and they had lived in a little room alone somewhere back of Halsted Street, where the Irish were. Mary had had consumption, and all day long you might hear her coughing as she worked; of late she had been going all to pieces, and when Marija came, the "forelady" had suddenly decided to turn her off. The forelady had to come up to a certain standard herself, and could not stop for sick people, Jadvyga explained. The fact that Mary had been there so long had not made any difference to her – it was doubtful if she even knew that, for both the forelady and the superintendent were new people, having only been there two or three years themselves. Jadvyga did not know what had become of the poor creature; she would have gone to see her, but had been sick herself. She had pains in her back all the time, Jadvyga explained, and feared that she had womb trouble. It was not fit work for a woman, handling fourteen-pound cans all day.

It was a striking circumstance that Jonas, too, had gotten his job by the misfortune of some other person. Jonas pushed a truck loaded with hams from the smoke rooms on to an elevator, and thence to the packing rooms. The trucks were all of iron, and heavy, and they put about threescore hams on each of them, a load of more than a quarter of a ton. On the uneven floor it was a task for a man to start one of these trucks, unless he was a giant; and when it was once started he naturally tried his best to keep it going. There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a second's delay he would fall to cursing; Lithuanians and Slovaks and such, who could not understand what was said to them, the bosses were wont to kick about the place like so many dogs. Therefore these trucks went for the most part on the run; and the predecessor of Jonas had been jammed against the wall by one and crushed in a horrible and nameless manner.

All of these were sinister incidents; but they were trifles compared to what Jurgis saw with his own eyes before long. One curious thing he had noticed, the very first day, in his profession of shoveler of guts; which was the sharp trick of the floor bosses whenever there chanced to come a "slunk" calf. Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that the flesh of a cow that is about to calve, or has just calved, is not fit for food. A good many of these came every day to the packing houses – and, of course, if they had chosen, it would have been an easy matter for the packers to keep them till they were fit for food. But for the saving of time and fodder, it was the law that cows of that sort came along with the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss would start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would stroll away. So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out, and entrails would have vanished; it was Jurgis' task to slide them into the trap, calves and all, and on the floor below they took out these "slunk" calves, and butchered them for meat, and used even the skins of them.

One day a man slipped and hurt his leg; and that afternoon, when the last of the cattle had been disposed of, and the men were leaving, Jurgis was ordered to remain and do some special work which this injured man had usually done. It was late, almost dark, and the government inspectors had all gone, and there were only a dozen or two of men on the floor. That day they had killed about four thousand cattle, and these cattle had come in freight trains from far states, and some of them had got hurt. There were some with broken legs, and some with gored sides; there were some that had died, from what cause no one could say; and they were all to be disposed of, here in darkness and silence. "Downers," the men called them; and the packing house had a special elevator upon which they were raised to the killing beds, where the gang proceeded to handle them, with an air of businesslike nonchalance which said plainer than any words that it was a matter of everyday routine. It took a couple of hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis saw them go into the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here and there so that they could not be identified. When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.


There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep has to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself, and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the 'hoisters', as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham's architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer-men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor, for the odour of a fertilizer-man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards; and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting - sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard

I, Too, Sing America

Langston Hughes


I, too, sing America.


I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I'll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody will dare

Say to me,

"Eat in the kitchen,"




They'll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed--


I, too, am America.

Justice (published in 1923)

Langston Hughes
That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

READING 7) 15 Minutes that Saved America:

How FDR charmed the nation, rescued the banks and preserved capitalism

By: Brands, H. W., American History, 10768866, Oct2008, Vol. 43, Issue 4

Radio and Roosevelt were made for each other, and the president used the medium most effectively when he sat behind this microphone on March 12, 1933, for his first fireside chat to Americans worried about economic collapse.

At the height of the 1933 bank panic, shellshocked customers throng inside a Detroit bank in hopes of retrieving their life savings.

Cold weather still gripped most of the country on Sunday, March 12, 1933, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepared to speak to the American people from the White House. The radio networks of the National Broadcasting Company and Columbia Broadcasting System had agreed to suspend regular programming at 10 p.m. Eastern time, and millions of Americans huddled around their radios in kitchens, parlors and living rooms. Forced by hard times to skimp on home heating fuel, they bundled in blankets and overcoats on this late winter night waiting, with everyone else, to hear the president.

Moments before air time, the reading copy of Roosevelt's prepared remarks — triple-spaced and typed by assistant Grace Tully with a special blue ribbon — disappeared. Staff members flew about trying to find it, but Roosevelt calmly retrieved one of the smudged, single-spaced mimeographed copies that had been prepared for the press, and read from that.

"I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking," he began. Listeners recognized the voice, but it sounded different tonight. Roosevelt's tenor typically rose when he projected to large crowds; now it retained its conversational tone. He spoke quietly, even soothingly, like a favorite uncle telling a bedtime story. There was no levity in his words or his inflection, but neither was there obvious gravity. A traveler from a distant country, unfamiliar with the crisis facing America, would never have guessed how much hung on Roosevelt's every word as he delivered his first fireside chat to the nation just eight days after his inauguration.

Echoes of the crisis Roosevelt inherited when he took office 75 years ago can be heard today in news reports of home foreclosures and tottering financial institutions. But what resonates more deeply across the decades is an abiding faith in the long-term resilience of the American economy — -a faith that Roosevelt helped foster during a brief radio address delivered amid a run on banks that raised troubling questions about credit, the value of the dollar and the future of capitalism. The story of how Roosevelt stopped a nationwide panic and restored Americans' confidence in the banking system is a case study in presidential theatrics and the remarkable power of moral suasion when exercised by a visionary leader.

Presidents had been speaking to the American people since the birth of the republic. The inaugural addresses of every president from George Washington to Warren Harding had been pitched at the entire nation, although they were heard only by those in attendance at the inaugural ceremonies. Presidents' annual messages to Congress functioned similarly: delivered to a discrete audience but intended for Americans at large. Yet during the century between Thomas Jefferson and William Howard Taft, the annual messages had been delivered to the Senate and House in writing and were read to the legislators by clerks. Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering the annual message orally, but even then the American people had to wait to read the speech in their local papers. The president's words were history before they reached their ultimate audience.

The rise of radio created new possibilities for connecting with the people. Calvin Coolidge gave his inaugural address on the radio to a patchwork of stations connected by telephone lines. Yet Coolidge was dubbed Silent Cal for a reason, and neither he nor his successor, Herbert Hoover, seriously explored radio's technological potential.

Nor did they explore radio's psychological potential. Radio continued a shift in the political center of gravity in Washington that had been underway for decades. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the great communicators in American politics had been members of Congress. Listeners swooned at the soaring phrases of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, not at the pedestrian utterances of Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and Ulysses Grant. Abraham Lincoln's rare gems — his Gettysburg address, his second inaugural — were the exceptions that proved the rule of executive forgettability in American public speaking.

Things changed under Theodore Roosevelt. The master of the "bully pulpit" understood the moral and emotional power of the presidency, and his speeches sounded like sermons as he lashed the "criminal rich" and "malefactors of great wealth" for conspiring against the public. Wilson sermonized, too, although mostly about foreign affairs. Wilson summoned Americans to war in 1917 in order to make the world "safe for democracy," and he offered his Fourteen Points as a guide to a better future for humanity.

Franklin Roosevelt studied his predecessors closely. During visits to the White House during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin and his uncle by marriage, Franklin mentally tried the residence on for size. FDR patterned his political career on TR's, starting with a stint in the New York legislature, followed by service with the Navy Department and then the governorship of New York. The navy posting afforded Roosevelt a good opportunity to observe the inner workings of the Wilson administration. For 7 ½ years, as assistant navy secretary, he noted Wilson's successes and failures, and he paid particular attention as Wilson toured the country to enlist popular support for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Everywhere Wilson went, he stirred audiences with his vision of American leadership in the world. He might well have forced a skeptical Senate to accept the treaty and the League, but a stroke felled him and his magnificent voice went silent.

Herbert Hoover greets Roosevelt with apparent warmth just before the president-elect's inauguration, but the two endured a strained and mostly silent ride to the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Embittered by his loss in the 1932 election. Hoover knew that his reluctance to intervene in the obvious economic crisis had made him one of the most unpopular presidents in American history.

Roosevelt was still reflecting on Wilson and the power of presidential words when his own turn came. Not since Lincoln had a president assumed office under such disheartening circumstances. The stock market crash of 1929 had presaged the implosion of the American economy. Industrial production had fallen by half; industrial construction by nine-tenths. The steel industry, long a mainstay of America's might, was staggering along at barely 10 percent of capacity. Unemployment topped 12 million, and even this figure understated the problem, for it ignored those too discouraged to continue seeking work. Commodity prices had collapsed, forcing farmers to struggle ever harder to make ends meet, until the prices fell so far that the farmers couldn't afford to harvest their wheat and corn, and let it rot in the fields.

Hundreds of thousands of families lost their homes; as many as 2 million men, women and children wandered the highways of America seeking shelter. Homeless communities, called Hoovervilles in derision of the Republican president, sprang up in cities all across the country. The shantytowns at first hid under bridges and in gulches but eventually spilled into plain sight. Manhattan's homeless claimed the shore of the Hudson River from 72nd Street to 110th.

Hunger stalked the land, visibly afflicting the crowded shantytowns, invisibly sapping the strength of sufferers on isolated farms and in end-of-the-road hamlets. Some of the starving were reduced to an animal existence; they fought over scraps behind restaurants and in garbage dumps. "We have been eating wild greens," an out-of-work Kentucky coal miner reported unemotionally. "Such weeds as cows eat."

"You could smell the depression in the air," one survivor remembered, before switching metaphors: "It was like a raw wind; the very houses we lived in seemed to be shrinking, hopeless of real comfort." A journalist in Washington remarked at the time: "I come home from the hill every night filled with gloom. I see on the streets filthy, ragged, desperate-looking men, such as I have never seen before."

In the month before Roosevelt's inauguration on March 4, 1933, the crisis centered on the nation's financial sector. The stock market crash had punished many banks, as borrowers defaulted on loans they had used to underwrite speculation, and as speculating banks suffered from their own bad investments. Weak banks dragged stronger ones down when panicked depositors demanded their money, which the banks, having loaned it out, couldn't deliver. Five thousand banks had folded by the time Roosevelt took office, and perhaps 10 million Americans had lost their savings.

In several states the entire banking industry ground to a halt as governors suspended bank operations. The governor of Louisiana locked the bank doors in his state in early February; the governors of Michigan, Maryland, Indiana, Arkansas and Ohio did likewise during the next two weeks. Roosevelt reached Washington 48 hours ahead of his inauguration and took the presidential suite at the Mayflower Hotel; the walls there were festooned with slips of paper detailing the unfolding debacle: "Boise, Idaho: Acting Governor Hill today declared a fifteen-day bank holiday.… Salem, Oregon: Governor Meier declared a three-day bank holiday…. Carson City, Nevada: A four-day legal holiday…. Austin, Texas…. Salt Lake City, Utah…. Phoenix, Arizona…."

The dollar losses were staggering. The Federal Reserve reported an outflow of more than $700 million in seven days ahead of the inauguration as surviving banks scrambled frantically to meet their depositors' demands. The bleeding escalated to $500 million in the final two days before the inauguration.

Gold grew more precious than ever and scarcer. An all-time record of $116 million of gold was withdrawn from the Fed banks in a single day, as foreign account holders lost faith in the dollar and insisted on the yellow metal. Domestic holders of dollars began to get nervous. They fingered their Federal Reserve notes and wondered whether and how the government would honor the promise engraved on each: "Redeemable In Gold On Demand At The United States Treasury, Or In Gold Or Lawful Money At Any Federal Reserve Bank."

Roosevelt presented a curious mix of reassurance and challenge to the nation in his inaugural address. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he said. Yet he proceeded to catalog some dauntingly real reasons for fear. "The means of exchange are frozen_The withered leaves of industrial enterprise he on every side…. Farmers find no markets for their produce…. The savings of many years in thousands of families are gone." Roosevelt likened the nation's dire economic predicament to a war and promised bold action. Americans must operate in unison, he said, "as a trained and loyal army."

Roosevelt then promptly moved to stanch the hemorrhage of gold from the banks by doing what the governors had done but on a broader scale. Inauguration Day was Saturday; on Sunday all the banks were closed. At 1 o'clock on Monday morning, March 6, he issued a decree declaring a national bank holiday. During the suspension, all normal banking operations would be barred. No bank was allowed to "pay out, export, earmark, or permit the withdrawal or transfer in any manner or by any device whatsoever, of any gold or silver coin or bullion or currency."

The move took the country's breath away. Without consulting Congress or, apparently, the Constitution, the president had declared economic martial law. Deposits were frozen; customers of the country's 18,000 banks were prevented from even trying to get their money out. The embargo on gold effectively took the United States off the gold standard, at least for the duration of the bank holiday.

Roosevelt cited an obscure law most people thought had lapsed — the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act (which gave the president the wartime power to prohibit hoarding gold) — as justification for his diktat. Opinions differed sharply on whether the law was still in force, let alone whether it supported a peacetime stroke of the magnitude Roosevelt had just delivered.

Yet so desperate was the country for decisive action that almost no one in political or business circles seriously challenged the president. Even the Wall Street Journal approved. "A common adversity has much subdued the recalcitrance of groups bent upon self-interest," the de facto mouthpiece of the financial sector observed. "All of us the country over are now ready to make sacrifices to a common necessity and to accept realities as we would not have done three months ago."

The bank holiday bought Roosevelt time but only a little. He immediately set his advisers to writing a remedy to the financial panic. William Woodin, the Treasury secretary, led the effort. "We're on the bottom now," Woodin told reporters in a rare break between drafting sessions. This was supposed to be reassuring. "We are not going any lower," he said.

Clamshells took the place of paper money in Pismo Beach, Calif., during the national bank holiday, as communities issued scrip that could be exchanged for local goods and services.

Woodin and the others — including governors of the Federal Reserve, chairmen of private banks, members of key congressional committees, and academic and professional economists — worked until 2 o'clock each morning at the White House. They went home for a few hours' sleep before returning for more of the same. The pressure was tremendous. "We're snowed under, we're snowed under," Francis Await, the comptroller of the currency, muttered. But Woodin kept them on track. "Not once did his grey toupee slip askew in the excitement," a reporter remarked.

Roosevelt wanted to have a bill by Thursday morning, March 9. He had summoned an emergency session of Congress, and he wished to present the lawmakers with a finished product as they gathered that noon. But the myriad intricacies of the money question defied such rapid solution, and when the session convened, the administrations measure was still at the printer's shop. Congress went ahead nonetheless and, employing a folded newspaper as a proxy for the actual bill, approved it on the president's recommendation and that of those lawmakers who had seen a draft of the legislation. The measure stamped retroactive approval on the bank closure and the gold embargo, and it authorized the president to reopen the banks when he deemed appropriate and to reorganize the national banking system to protect strong banks from the weak.

Roosevelt signed the bill that Thursday evening and shortly announced a timetable for reopening the banks. The 12 Federal Reserve banks would open on Monday, March 13, along with the other banks in those 12 cities. Banks in most other cities would open on Tuesday. Banks in small towns and villages would open on Wednesday.

There was less to the bank law than met the eye. Roosevelt had needed to stem the panic, and closing the banks did so. The bank law made the process look legal and planned. But the question on which everything hung — the condition of American finance, the direction of the economy, even the fate of America's distinctive mix of capitalism and democracy — was whether confidence could be restored by the time the banks reopened. If it was restored, the rescue operation would succeed. Prosperity might remain some distance off, but the country could begin moving in that direction.

Two-thirds of American homes had a radio by 1935. The $40 pricetag was equivalent to that of a small LCD TV in 2007.

Roosevelt (above) mastered the intimacy of radio in his first fireside chat. He had a direct channel into people's most private spaces — their homes (left).

In return, listeners felt a personal connection to their president and to their country. The fireside chats helped unify public opinion and promoted a spirit of cooperation among Americans in a time of crisis.

If confidence was not restored, all the effort would have been wasted. Pessimists noted that democracy was failing in other countries that couldn't solve their economic problems. Germany had installed Adolf Hider as chancellor a month before Roosevelt was inaugurated. A week before the American inauguration, Nazi agents burned the Reichstag and blamed the German Communists. Hours before Roosevelt closed the American banks, German elections returned a parliamentary majority for Hider's coalition. Hitler demanded, and quickly received, dictatorial powers from the intimidated legislature.

Roosevelt's foremost objective as he began his first fireside chat on March 12 was to sound a note of calm. Millions had tuned in to his inaugural address, just a week before, but that speech had been delivered to a live audience in Washington, D.C., with the radio listeners merely eavesdropping. Now the radio listeners were the president's sole audience, aside from the few family members and administration officials sitting with him in the Oval Office, as he offered a matter-of-fact explanation of what had precipitated the banking crisis. "Because of undermined confidence on the part of the public, there was a general rush by a large portion of our population to turn bank deposits into currency or gold — a rush so great that the soundest banks could not get enough currency to meet the demand," he said. "The reason for this was that on the spur of the moment it was, of course, impossible to sell perfectly sound assets of a bank and convert them into cash except at panic prices far below their real value."

To remedy the situation, Roosevelt said, he and Congress had taken two important steps. First, he had declared the bank holiday, to give bankers, depositors and everyone else a chance to catch their breath. Second, Congress had approved the bank bill, confirming his authority over the banking system and allowing him to reopen the banks in an orderly fashion.

Roosevelt explained the timetable for the re-openings, and he asked for special patience on the part of depositors. "There is an element in the readjustment of our, financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people," he said. "Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail."

Whether it was his tone of voice, his choice of words, the nature of the medium or a sudden desire on the part of Americans to please their new president, Roosevelt's 15-minute talk evoked a stunningly positive response. Thousands of telegrams poured into the White House overnight. "Created feeling of confidence in me and my family," one said. Another asserted: "Going direct to the people with the facts has inspired every confidence in the reopening of the banks." A third called the talk "a masterpiece in the circumstances and worthy of the historical precedent it established."

Editors and pundits fell over themselves in praise of Roosevelt's performance. The New York Times sensed a sudden change in the popular mood: "His simple and lucid explanation of the true function of a commercial bank; his account of what had happened, why it had happened, and the steps taken to correct the mischief were admirably fitted to cause the hysteria which had raged for several weeks before the banks were closed to abate if not entirely to subside."

Will Rogers labeled the speech a "home run" and considered it a model of straightforward eloquence. "Some people spend a lifetime juggling with words, with not an idea in a carload," the popular cowboy humorist observed. "Our President took such a dry subject as banking (and when I say 'dry' I mean dry, for if it had been liquid he wouldn't have had to speak on it at all). Well, he made everybody understand it, even the bankers." Sen. James Lewis marveled' at the powerful emotional impact of the president's remarks. "I have never seen within my political life such a real transformation in sentiment from discouragement to encouragement, from despair to complete hope and to immediate new trust and new hope," the Illinois Democrat declared.

Roosevelt was pleased at the praise but cared more for the financial effect of his message. The evidence from this direction was irrefutable. As the banks reopened, the negative currency flows of the previous weeks were reversed: Depositors stopped withdrawing funds and started returning the money they had pulled out. Bank balances began growing again, engendering additional confidence and further deposits. By the time the last banks opened, the crisis had passed.

The expeditious rescue of the banks didn't end the pressure on the larger economy. The grim statistics on national income, production and employment remained as dismal as ever. Central questions about the value of the dollar, the future of gold, the security of deposits and the structure of the industrial system were still to be answered.

But the emergency of the moment had been surmounted by Roosevelt's brilliant act of political theater. Raymond Moley, one of Roosevelt's advisers, later remarked that "capitalism was saved in eight days." He could have been more specific. The essence of the crisis was distilled into the quarter-hour of Roosevelt's fireside chat. Had the president failed to win the confidence of America that Sunday evening, the bank runs would have resumed and the downward spiral would have continued. But he didn't fail, and the banks, and capitalism, were saved.

In the bargain, Roosevelt fashioned a new link between presidents and the American people. The New York Times, in the same editorial in which it lauded the efficacy of Roosevelt's words, commented on the method of their delivery: "The President's use of the radio for this purpose is a fresh demonstration of the wonderful power of appeal to the people which science has placed in his hands. When millions of listeners can hear the President speak to them, as it were, directly in their own homes, we get a new meaning for the old phrase about a public man 'going to the country.'" Roosevelt went to the country without leaving the White House, and American politics would never be the same.

'Roosevelt spoke quietly, even soothingly. There was no levity in his words, but neither was there obvious gravity'

'We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support it and make it work'


1923-33 100 banks

1923 646

'24 775

25 617

26 975

27 669

'28 498

'29 659

30 1,350

31 2,293

32 1,453

'33 4,000

The rate of bank failures more than doubled

after the stock market crash. Federal loans

to banks provided some relief in 1932, but

they could not restore faith in the broken system.

By H. W. Brands

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