The Political Cartoon: A Unique Perspective on the Presidency of FDR

Michael W. Jackson 5/3/2000

The political cartoon, a tool of democracy, has been a cornerstone of American politics since the inception of this nation. The political cartoon, however, did not experience its coming of age until the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The ink flowed freely during the four consecutive terms of FDR and with this deluge of ink came a portrait of an American President. The nation itself would grow closer to their President unlike any previous generation. The focus of these political cartoons can be separated into four distinct categories. The knowledge that is embodied in these political cartoons ranges from Roosevelt's character and personality, Roosevelt's relationship with the people, the effect of the New Deal on American life, and the controversial side of FDR. These four subdivisions depict an American President that took America from the depths of depression to the heights of economic recovery. The first significant snapshot of FDR resides within the interpretation of political cartoons that depict Roosevelt as the guiding force of the nation. Roosevelt himself is depicted as "The Man of the Hour"1 and the leader of the pack. The nation was at the depths of economic insecurity during the 1932 presidential campaign and the inadequacies of Hoover left a void in the palette of the American people for a leader that would act to bring an end to the Great Depression. Roosevelt was the son of a prosperous family and had grown up in luxury. This experience itself would often be called an irony of the Great Depression, as Hoover was a self-made man. The product of this childhood, however, was not a snobbish aristocrat but a man who knew that America needed emergency relief immediately. The pride of Hoover was his weakness and it was the charity of Roosevelt that contributed to his understanding of direct economic assistance to a public in need. The character of Roosevelt was further fortified through the experience of polio that enabled him to view life with a disadvantage


Seibel, Fred O. Richmond Times Dispatch.

and make him one with America. A worker once said, " Mr. Roosevelt is the only man we ever had in the White House who would understand that my boss is a son of a bitch."2 This character to be one with the American people allowed Roosevelt to gain the trust of a nation in need of a savior. This position is supported through 7 distinct political cartoons that display the character of Roosevelt. The first significant cartoon (footnote 1) portrays Roosevelt as the man of the hour who is pushing away the darkness of depression and replacing it with the sunshine of prosperity while upholding the American ideals captured by the American Flag. "Still a Hero"3 is a cartoon depicting three statues, two which have crumbled and one which is still standing proud and tall. The two collapsed statues are of Hoover and Mellon who through their trickle down economic theory and do nothing approach gained the ill favor of the nation. The statue of Roosevelt however is still standing and it displays a man proud of himself and his convictions. " Confidence in Your Doctor is Half the Battle"4 depicts Roosevelt as the doctor of Uncle Sam. The bedside manner depicted in the cartoon conveys a sense of security and confidence as well as trust in a man that will bring an end to America's troubles. "Looks as if the New Leadership was really going to Lead"5 displays an active Roosevelt full of energy ready to move the nation down the road to emergency legislation and an end to the Depression. This cartoon captures the passion of a new President and his desire to maintain his promises to America in accordance with the sarcastic statement of the title that states that the nation did not expect the President to lead the nation. " The March 4th Reception Committee"6 captures the quick nature by which Roosevelt was introduced to the problems of the Nation as he approaches the

2 3

Henretta, James A. America's History pg 788 Brown, Webb. Akron Beacon Journal. 4 Kaiser. Houston Post. 5 Ray, S.J. Kansas City (MO) Star. 6 Morris. Brooklyn Citizen.

White House for the first time. Roosevelt is depicted as a normal man who walks up to the White House with his own luggage and in turn conveys a sense of equality with the American people. " Hail and Farewell"7 proceeds to continue the depiction of Roosevelt's arrival at the capital and his subsequent actions by entering the Oval Office while Hoover quickly leaves in disgrace. Roosevelt is shown to be jovial and ready to attack the problems of society neatly organized. "Sweeping Changes are Expected After March 4th"8 displays Roosevelt receiving the broom of reorganization to sweep away the fat of the nation in order to save the economy. The situation is one of joy and it captures the belief of the nation Roosevelt would bring and end to the depression as Uncle Sam looks on. The man depicted by these seven varied portraits is one that is trust worthy, energetic, and ready to lead America towards prosperity. The second issue addressed by the political cartoons is Roosevelt's relationship to the American people. Roosevelt through his battle with polio had developed an understanding of the disabled and discriminated masses and it was this new found belief in the needs of a crippled nation that drew FDR closer to his citizens. "Economic Peril"9 displays a man representing the citizens of the nation crying out for help in a time of need and first on the list of names is Roosevelt. This cartoon displays the confidence of the citizen in Roosevelt to solve the economic problems while maintaining a lookout for help on all avenues. " On the Course as Charted"10 Roosevelt returns as the captain of the National Welfare ready to survive the storm ahead in full rain gear. Roosevelt then is portrayed as the savior of the American people from their peril at sea as the captain guiding citizens to safe harbor. This cartoon depicts the relation of Roosevelt to

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Clubb. Rochester Times Union. Morris. Hoboken Observer. 9 White Plains Republican. 10 Sykes. Philadelphia Public Ledger.

Americans as their levelheaded captain. "The New Chauffeur"11 displays Roosevelt now as the repairman of the broken US economy. Roosevelt is captured rolling up his sleeves and preparing to fix the American economy. Roosevelt here is presented as the servant of Uncle Sam (American people) and it is his duty to fix any inconvenience. Hoover is caught fleeing from the wrecked car but Roosevelt is ready to help. "A Clear Track"12 now places Roosevelt at the head of a mighty locomotive ready to end the fears of the depression and lead society to economic recovery. A nation's confidence is emblazoned on the train and shows FDR leaving behind the blues of the depression. " His Stamp of Approval"13 depicts the clear and concise nature of Roosevelt's link to the people as he will maintain honesty and try his best, but if he fails he will accept defeat and try again. It is this try and try again attitude which gained great admiration of the American people. " Whoa"14 is a significant display of Roosevelt's relation to his constituents as he decides that the congress may not go on recess until the matters of the nation are solved. Roosevelt himself is depicted as a champion of the public and a man who will give aide in a time of need. "Hotel America"15 the final piece displaying Roosevelt's relation to America depicts a President who will not allow US funds to leave the country without the benefit of Americans. Roosevelt himself will not give the gold to Mrs. Trubble (Germany) as he is listening to the taxpayer and feels that the nation should not deplete its gold supply in a time of economic crisis. These seven images capture Roosevelt's devotion and bond with his nation as he prepares to pull America out of the depression by being a leader and a great motivator.

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Shanks, Bruce. Hungerford. New York Star Eagle. 13 Doyle, Jerry. Philadelphia Record. 14 Gibson, Bolt. Camden Post. 15 Power, T.E.

The third avenue of inspection is the significance of the New Deal programs on America. The New Deal itself provided a means to rebuild a plagued economy and a way to find a job in a time where men felt worthless. America had a black eye and it now was time to recover from its blow. "An Unfortunate Wait"16 utilizes the metaphor of a train station to display the interim period between the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. In the train depot are the solutions to the Great Depression, however because the Hoover train is sidetracked these new proposals will not arrive until Roosevelt's term in office. "Keeping His Nose on the Grindstone"17 displays the hand of the President pressuring the Congress to produce a solution to the problems of a nation. Roosevelt here allies himself with the American people and vows to keep the government hard at work to solve the problems of the nation. "On the Fire"18 displays the solution to the economic problems of America and Roosevelt as the Chef is preparing these remedies as fast as he can always announcing there imminent success. The public is captured as well in this cartoon as it depicts the interest in Americans to try these New Deal programs. "It IS a New Deal"19 begins to show the final outcome of the first New Deal on society as Roosevelt has prepared the remedy and now awaits the effects on the new move towards direct aid to America. "A Couple of Convincing Testimonials"20 shows the outcome of the remedies prescribed by Roosevelt. The banks and National Stability are improving and it is now time to bring relief to the farms. "Farm Relief"21 is a clear presentation of the relationship of the New Deal to the American farmer. Roosevelt has turned his attention away from the banks and national stability to work on the infrastructure of our nation, the yeoman farmer. The farmer

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Clubb. Plainfield News. Byck, S.S. Brooklyn Times. 18 Munhall. Lynn Item. 19 Talburt. Pittsburgh Press. 20 Carlsile. Rome Sentinel. 21 Talburt. Washington News.

depicted is elated with the news that someone is finally trying to solve the farm problem during the depression. "Foiled"22 is the pinnacle of the farm relief movement as the financial troubles of the farmer are set aside so that the farmer can return to providing the American people with food. The effect of the New Deal upon the American people is echoed in these drawings as the nation proceeds toward newfound prosperity. The nation once in toil is now protected and able to fight off the financial problems with aide of a President. The final area of concern embodied in these cartoons is the controversial side of FDR, who is said to have been the best remedy for America yet challenged by his actions involving the Supreme Court and the expansion of the power of the Executive branch. Roosevelt is often criticized as well for his lack of planning in dealing with America's economic troubles. "There's many a slip"23 is the first in a sequence of cartoons that criticize the moves of Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court in hopes of maintaining his New Deal initiatives. Roosevelt hoped that he could add to the Supreme Court a new justice for each justice over seventy that would increase the number of justices from nine to fifteen. The cartoon "Wonder if the result of the election would have been the same"24 further denotes the public rage when it appears that Roosevelt is saying half-truths to the American Public. In one scene the President is stating his hopes for the future and then in a second scene it depicts what Roosevelt really was saying with an angry voter. "Mr. President"25 further supports the nation's frustration during the second term of Roosevelt. The cartoon depicts the enormous size of Roosevelt to a small representation of the people. "Oliver Twist"26 represents the fear of

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Talburt. Washington News. Evans. Columbus Dispatch. 24 Orr. Chicago Tribune. 25 Seibel. Richmond Times Dispatch. 26 Parrish. Chicago Tribune.

the American people that Roosevelt is trying to overstep the bounds of the executive branch and move in on the power of congress. Roosevelt is asking for more power, yet his size is able to gain him whatever he desires. "What Happens when he finishes shuffling them around"27 is the question asked by the public as President Roosevelt appears to be devising a way to have dictatorial power over the branches of the government and the people. The public of course is caught off guard and can not understand why Roosevelt would do this to his friends (Americans). "The Blank Page"28 is the transition between the errors of packing the Supreme Court and now the lack of guidance when deciding what was best for a nation in crisis. Roosevelt is depicted as knowing that things needed to be done however he did not know exactly what needed to be done in America. It was only through assistance that FDR came to his plans for the New Deal. In "The Master Wheel Forgotten"29 Roosevelt is finally depicted as a child fooling with the nation's problems who solves the problem but leaves a crucial design out of the solution. The process of reconstructing a clock symbolizes the lack of foresight of Roosevelt and his presidency. Roosevelt is a man who, captured in the inkwells of a journalist, is both a savior of the nation and as well an uneducated child playing with a system he does not understand. The review of Roosevelt in the context of the cartoon interpretation of his actions has yielded a President with both beneficial and detrimental qualities. This duality of good and bad traits is one which balanced in Roosevelt was able to pull a nation from the depths of despair and return the American people to a state of prosperity.

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Parrish. Chicago Tribune. Boston Hearld. 29 Clubb. Utica Dispatch.

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