Our goal through the FDR Center Museum, a non-profit organization of Roosevelt and New Deal history, has been to share with the public the legacy of the Greatest Generation. Sometimes our work is difficult, but we persevere. I hope that when our FDR Center Museum relocates to Chicopee you will come join us for many exciting activities and exhibits highlighting the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the American people during the Great Depression and World War II.
In context of keeping the New Deal record straight, it is unfortunately all too conventional to read analyses of the New Deal in the media the conclusion that the programs initiated by President Roosevelt beginning in March, 1933 did not end or even come close to mitigating the economic conditions produced by the Great Depression; it was pre-World War II defense spending by the government that did that. This morning in the Terre Haute (Indiana) Tribune-Star for example, there is an article entitled “The Great Depression muddled by myths,” which is about as blatant an attempt to resuscitate the reputation and presidency of Herbert Hoover (at the expense of the New Deal) as I have read in some time. The writer, Arthur Foulkes, makes reference to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, when he states:
“Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s treasury secretary and close friend, wrote in his diary in 1939, ‘[A]fter eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started…and an enormous debt to boot.'”
The problem with these accounts is that they do not take into calculation the actual New Deal programs themselves as sources of employment during the Roosevelt presidency! Thankfully, Conrad Black’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom published in 2003, and more recently Jean Edward Smith’s single volume biography entitled FDR do deal with this issue. As one example, in a footnote on page 396, Smith even cites Black when he writes:
“In his 2003 biography of FDR, Conrad Black took issue with the school of historiography that asserts that recovery in the United States lagged behind that of other industrial countries. As Lord Black points out, American unemployment figures did not distinguish between those who had no job whatever and those working for the WPA, in the public works program, or enrolled in the CCC. All were lumped together as ‘unemployed.’ When the relief workers are factored in, American unemployment totals drop by almost 60 percent. [emphasis added]. ‘None of the other Western democracies,” writes Black, “provided so much or such original emergency relief employment as the United States did.'”
Smith points out in his economic analysis, which seems to go missing from this Terre Haute newspaper article as well as many other articles and analyses, an astounding statistical economic conclusion: In the spring of 1937 American production went above pre-Depression levels for the first time. Payrolls showed significant gains, the steel industry was at 80 percent of capacity, the Dow Jones average was up six-fold from 1933, and unemployment shrank to 12 percent. However, when you subtract from this raw unemployment figure (which was less than half of the Hoover unemployment total in 1933 to begin with) the New Deal workers employed by the CCC, PWA, and WPA, the unemployment figure in reality stood at 4 percent! Yes, 4 percent, the same figure as today. And that 4 percent unemployment figure does not take into account the many other reform programs of the New Deal affecting economic and social security that were implemented institutionally by the New Deal (e.g., SEC, FDIC, Social Security) that positively affected economic growth sustained in the decades after World War II ended. It is astounding that these real, measurable, and impressive economic analyses are constantly ignored in attempts to attack FDR and the New Deal seventy five years later. The numbers tell a different story, however.
President and Founder
Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center Museum