Nothing to Fear
A new book peels back the legend to examine FDR’s first 100 days.
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So the New Deal – and the beginning of big government in the US – actually began with laws designed to rescue ailing banks and cut federal spending. The well-known legislative landmarks of the Hundred Days – such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Federal Emergency Relief Act – were not the first proposals Roosevelt put forward.Skip to next paragraph
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It is not easy to describe a brief period during which so many things were happening simultaneously. Cohen structures his book chronologically and organizes it around biographies of five key FDR aides.
They were, to put it mildly, a diverse group. Lewis Douglas, the conservative budget director, wanted above all else to reduce spending. Raymond Moley was a “cerebral, strategic” Columbia University professor who collected and organized ideas for Roosevelt. Despite their crucial role early in the Hundred Days, both eventually fell out of favor and denounced the New Deal.
The others were liberals who remained loyal until the end. Henry Wallace, a farmer and journalist from Iowa, was in charge of reversing the decade-long decline in farm prices. He became vice president in Roosevelt’s third term and eventually Commerce secretary.
But the most influential may have been Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. She brought a clear, expansive agenda to her new post which included unemployment relief, funding for large-scale public works projects, minimum-wage and maximum-hours legislation, and old-age insurance. Despite great personal sorrow and extraordinary challenges as the nation’s first female cabinet secretary, she saw all of her initial priorities enacted into law.
Cohen’s book may well renew interest in this seminal figure.
Cohen, an editorial writer at The New York Times, makes extensive use of both primary and secondary materials to unfold the clear, compelling story of how the circumstances of the nation – together with the character of its political leaders – reshaped American society in so brief period of time.