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early in the 19th century the US had experienced recessions or panics at least every 20 years. But none was as severe or lasted as long as the Great Depression. Only as the economy shifted toward war mobilization in the late 1930s did the grip of the depression finally ease. The Causes of the Depression I. The downturn began slowly and almost imperceptibly. After 1927, consumer spending declined and housing construction slowed. Inventories piled up, and in 1928 and 1929 manufacturers began to cut back on production and lay off workers; reduced buying power and incomes in turn reinforced the downturn. Stock Market Speculation and the Great Crash I. Among the causes of the GD, a flawed stock market was an important but not dominant influence. A. By 1929 the market had become a symbol of the nation’s prosperity and an icon of American business culture. B. 4 million Americans, or 10% of the nation’s households, played the stock market in 1929.
Stock prices had been rising steadily since 1921, but in 1928 and 1929 they surged forward, with the price of stocks rising over 40%. All this economic activity was essentially unregulated. A. Easy credit lured more speculators and less creditworthy investors into the market. B. The Federal Reserve Bank warned member banks not to lend money for stock speculation—if prices dropped, many investors would not be able to repay their debts—but no one listened. The stock market began to slow in early Sep, but people ignored the warning. Then on “Black Thursday” and again on “Black Tuesday,” the bubble burst. A. Overextended investors, suddenly finding themselves heavily in debt, began to sell their stocks. Waves of selling panic ensued, during which stocks found no buyers. The precipitous decline of stock prices became known as the Great Crash, and its impact was felt far beyond the trading floors of Wall Street. Speculators, who had borrowed from banks to buy their stocks could not repay their loans because they could not sell the stocks. These defaults caused bank failures. A. Since bank deposits were uninsured before the 1930s, a bank failure meant that all the depositor’s money was lost. This sudden loss of their life savings was a shock to members of the middle class, many of whom had no other resources with which to cope with the crisis. The stock market crash intensified the course of the Great Depression in several ways. Besides wiping out the life savings of thousands of Americans, in hurt commercial banks that had invested heavily in corporate stocks.
A. Less tangibly, it destroyed the optimism of people who had regarded the stock market as the
crowning symbol of American prosperity, causing a crisis of confidence that prolonged the Depression. Structural Weaknesses I. Although the stock market crash and its immediate consequences contributed to the Great Depression, longstanding weaknesses in the American economy accounted for its length and severity, especially in the deep plunge between 1931 and 1933. A. Agriculture, in particular, had never recovered from the recession of 1920-21. Farmers faced high fixed costs for equipment and mortgages incurred during the inflationary war years. B. At the same time prices fell due to overproduction, forcing farmers to default on mortgage payments and risk foreclosure. C. Because farmers accounted for about ¼ of that nation’s gainfully employed workers in 1929, their difficulties weakened the general economic structure.
Certain basic industries also had experienced economic setbacks during the prosperous 1920s. A. Textile manufacturers, facing a steady market decline after the war, abandoned NE for cheaper labor markets in the South but continued to suffer from decreased demand and overproduction. B. Mining and lumbering, which had expanded in response to wartime demands, experienced the same problem. Coal mining was especially battered by overexpansion, outdated technology, and competition from new energy sources. C. The railroad industry, damaged by stiff competition from track transportation on publicly subsidized roads, faced shrinking passenger revenues and stagnant freight levels.
D. While these older sections of the economy faltered, newer and more successful consumer-based
industries, such as chemicals, appliances, and food processing, proved not yet strong enough to lead the way to recovery. Unequal Distribution of Wealth I. The country’s unequal distribution of wealth also contributed to the severity of the depression. A. During the 1920s the share of national income going to families in the upper and middle-income brackets increased. The tax policies of Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon contributed to that concentration of wealth by lowering personal income taxes, eliminating the wartime excessprofits tax, and increasing deductions that favored affluent individuals and corporations. B. Once the depression began, this skewed income distribution prevented people from spending the amounts of money needed to revive the economy. The Deepening Economic Crisis I. The GD became self-perpetuating. The more the American economy contracted, the longer people expected the depression to last; and the longer they expected it to last, the more afraid they were to spend or invest their money—and spending and investing was exactly what was needed to stimulate the economic recovery. A. The economy showed some improvement in the summer of 1931 when low prices encouraged consumption, but in plunged again late in the fall. II. At that point the chronically depressed agricultural sector put pressure on the commercial banking system, worsening the economic contraction. The nation’s banks had already been weakened by the stock market crash. A. When agricultural prices and incomes fell more steeply than usual in 1930, many farmers went bankrupt, causing rural banks to fail in alarming numbers. B. By December 1930 so many banks had defaulted on their obligations that urban banks also began to fail. The wave of bank failures frightened depositors into withdrawing their savings, further deepening the crisis. III. A change in the nation’s monetary policy in 1931 added to the banking problems. A. During the first phase of the depression the Federal Reserve System had reacted cautiously. But in October 1931 the Federal Reserve Bank of NY significantly increased the discount rate—the interest rate it charged on loans to member banks—and cut back the amount of money placed in circulation through purchase of government securities. B. This miscalculation squeezed the money supply, forcing prices down and depriving businesses of funds for investment. IV. In the face of the money, the country could have been pulled out of the depression only if American people spent at a higher rate. But because of falling prices, rising unemployment, and a troubled banking system, Americans preferred to hold on to their dollars. Economic stagnation set in. The Worldwide Depression I. Hoover later blamed the severity of the depression on the international economic situation. Although domestic factors far outweighed international causes of America’s protracted economic decline, Hoover was correct in surmising that economic problems in the rest of the world affected the US.
A. The international economic system had been out of kilter since WWI. In functioned only as long as American banks exported enough capital to allow European countries to repay their debts and continue to buy American goods. B. By the late 1920s European economies were staggering under the weight of large debts and trade imbalances with the US, which undercut the recovery that had seemed possible earlier in the decade. By 1931 most European economies had collapsed. The downturn of the American economy had enormous repercussions. When US companies cut back production, they also cut back their purchases of raw materials and supplies from abroad, and this devastated many foreign economies. When American financiers sharply reduced foreign investment and consumers bought fewer European goods, debt repayment became even more difficult. A. As European economic conditions worsened, demand for American exports fell dramatically; this strained the gold standard, which provided fixed standards against which the value of currencies could be pegged. B. When the Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930 raised rates to an all-time high, foreign governments retaliated by imposing their own trade restrictions, further limiting the market for American goods —especially agricultural products. By 1933 the world economy was showing signs of recovery, although progress remained uneven. No other major trading nations was hit as hard as the US.
Hard Times I. For most, the depression did not mean losing thousands of dollars in the stock market or pulling children out of boarding school, nor did it mean going on relief or living in a shantytown. Making Do I. The depression caused a private kind of despair that often simmered behind closed doors. The victims of the depression were a varied group. The depression did not create poverty; it merely publicized the conditions of the poor. A. People who had always been poor were joined by the newly poor. Those formerly solid workingclass and middle-class families strongly believed in the Horatio Alger ethic of upward mobility through hard work but suddenly found themselves floundering in a society that no longer had a place for them. B. They were proud people who felt humiliated by their plight, and many blamed themselves for their misfortune. II. Hard times weighed heaving on senior citizens, many of whom faced utter destitution after losing their savings in bank failures. Children, by contrast, often escaped the sense of bitterness and failure that gripped their elders; some youngsters thought it was fun to stand in a soup line. Yet hard times made children grow up fast. III. Downward mobility was especially hard for middle-class Americans because it challenged basic American tenets of individualism and success. A. The key to surviving the depression was to maintain one’s self-respect. Keeping life as close to normal as possible was an essential strategy. B. Camaraderie and cooperation helped many families and communities survive as people found that they were all in the same boat. IV. After their savings and credit had been exhausted, many families faced the humiliation of going on relief. Seeking aid from state or local governments hurt people’s pride and disrupted the traditional pattern of turning to relatives, neighbors, churches and mutual-aid societies in times of need.
A. Even if families survived the demeaning process of being certified for state or local relief, the
amount they received was a pittance. B. Such hardships left deep wounds. People feared losing control of their lives. The depression left a legacy of fear, but also a desire to acquire security.
Families Face the Great Depression I. The depression generally intensified existing behavior. II. Men and women experienced the GB differently, partly because of traditional gender roles that governed behavior in the 1930s. men had been trained since childhood to be breadwinners and considered themselves failures if they could no longer support their families. A. Women, however, felt their self importance increase as they struggled to keep their families afloat. Men lost much of their sense of time and dawdled helplessly in the streets while women’s work remained intact and important.
Despite the hard times, Americans maintained a fairly high level of consumption. Several factors enabled those families more or less to maintain their former standard of living despite pay cuts or unemployment—especially the deflation that lowered the cost of living. A. Families spent their reduced income differently. Telephone use and clothing sales dropped dramatically, but cigarettes, movies, radio, and newspapers, once considered luxuries, now became necessities. B. The automobile proved to be one of the most recession-proof items in the family budget. Though sales of new cars dropped, gasoline sales were stable, suggesting that people bought used cars or kept their old models running longer. Some families maintained their lifestyles in the 1930s through “deficit living”—using installment payments and credit to stretch their incomes. A. To maintain their families’ lifestyles, housewives substituted their own labor for goods and services they had formerly purchased. Women generally accepted their new work stoically. B. Another way for families to make ends meet in the 1930s was to send an additional member of the household to work. The additional worker was often a child or young unmarried adult; in the 1930s it was increasingly a married woman. C. Instead of expelling women from the workforce, the depression solidified their position in it. Working women, especially married ones, encountered sharp resentment and outright discrimination when they entered the depression workplace. A. From 1932-37 the federal government would not allow a husband and wife to hold government jobs at the same time, and many states adopted laws that prohibited married women from working, especially in the field of education. B. The attempt to make women scapegoats for the depression rested on shaky moral and economic grounds. C. Most women worked because they had to. A sizable minority were the sole support for their families because their husbands had left home or lost their jobs. D. Women rarely took jobs away from men. The division of the work force by gender gave women a small edge during the depression. Many fields with large numbers of female employees, including clerical, sales, and service and trade occupations, suffered less from economic contraction than did the steel industry, mining, and manufacturing, which employed men almost exclusively. A. As a result, unemployment rates for women were somewhat lower than those for men. B. This small bonus came at a price, however. The jobs women held reinforced the traditional stereotypes of women’s work. When the depression ended, women found themselves even more concentrated in low-paying, dead-end jobs than when it began. The depression workplace also benefited white women at the expense of nonwhite women. To make ends meet, white women took jobs traditionally held by black or minority workers. A. White men also took jobs previously held by minority group men. In both cases employers were quick to act on their preference for a white work force.
During the GD there were few feminist demands for equal rights at home or on the job. On an individual basis, women’s self-esteem probably rose because of their importance to family survival. A. Most men and women continued to believe that the 2 sexes should have fundamentally different roles and responsibilities and that a woman’s life cycle should be shaped by marriage, childrearing, and her husband’s career. B. The substantial contributions made by women in the 1930s actually reinforced their overall identification with the home. Demographic Trends I. Another measure of the impact of the depression on family life was the change in demographic trends during the 1930s. A. The marriage and divorce rates fell because people could not afford to dissolve failed marriages. Postponement of marriage sometimes became permanent. II. The 1930s marked a significant stage in the long history of the birth control movement in America. A. The United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries case struck down the federal restriction on the dissemination of contraceptive information. Doctors now had wide discretion in prescribing birth control for married couples, which became largely legal. B. Public support for contraception increased. These changing attitudes meant thriving business for the makers of diaphragms and condoms. III. Margret Sanger played a major role in encouraging the availability and popular acceptance of birth control. In the 1920s and 30s she appealed to the middle class for support, identifying this segment of the population as the key to the movement’s success. A. Sanger also courted the medical profession, pioneering the establishment of birth control clinics. B. Birth control became less of a feminist issue and more a medical issue. IV. Contraception had long been a private matter between individuals. Its public acceptance increased greatly during the 1930s because of the widespread desire to limit family size for economic reasons. A. In 1942 the American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood. Hard Times for Youth I. Although children only glimpsed the sacrifices made in the 1930s, adolescents knew that making do usually meant making without. Young men who entered adulthood during the depression era had less successful careers than did those before or since. II. Because job prospects were so dim, some young people chose to stay in school longer. In 1935 college became a little more affordable because of the National Youth Administration, which provided parttime employment to more than 2 million college and high school students. A. Financial sacrifices contributed to the seriousness of purpose among the college students in the 1930s. B. The influence of fraternities and sororities declined during the depression, and many students became involved in political movements. III. Despite the economic sacrifices demanded by the depression, adolescence became increasingly institutionalized in the 1930s. A. Through high school and college attendance, organized athletics, and extracurricular activities, young people developed their own values and patterns of behavior. B. Peers influenced their values and tastes. Magazines and movies promoted a youth culture that was closely tied to an ethos of consumption. Popular Culture I. Americans turned to popular culture to alleviate some of the worst trauma of the depression. The mass culture that grew so dramatically in the 20s flourished in the decade that followed, offering not just entertainment but commentary on the problems that beset the nation. A. Movies and radio served as a forum for criticizing the system—especially politicians and bankers —as well as vehicles for reforming traditional ideals.
III. IV. Radio Days
The movie industry and its studio system flourished. In response to public outcry by the Catholic Legion of Decency and other religious groups that were against supposed immorality in the early talkies, the industry set up the Production Code Administration in 1934. A. Committing themselves to a form of self-censorship, studios agreed to banish explicit sex, immorality, and violence from the screen. Hollywood movies offered more than just an escape from hard times. Many of the movies produced during the depression era contained complex messages that reflected a real sense of social crisis that engulfed the nation. A. Many films reaffirmed traditional values such as democracy, individualism, and egalitarianism. They also contained criticisms—suggesting that the system was not working, or that law and order had broken down. B. Often these movies suggested that incompetent or corrupt politicians, police, and business leaders were as much to blame for organized crime as the gangsters themselves. Depression-era films often portrayed politicians as cynical and corrupt At the height of the depression, movies continued to influence consumers.
Radio occupied an increasingly important place in popular culture during the 1930s. Radio brought music and entertainment to the depression-era audience. Like the movies, radio offered people more than escape. A. Many shows made allusions to the depression-era struggles. II. Not all leisure time was filled by commercial entertainment. In a resurgence of traditional values, attendance at religious services increased. The home once again became a center of leisure activity. A. People listened to the radio, played board games, and read aloud as cheap ways to have fun. Harder Times I. For such groups as African Americans, farmers, and Mexican Americans, times had always been hard, and during the 1930s they just got harder. Blacks in the Depression I. African Americans had always known discrimination and limited opportunity, so they viewed the depression differently than most whites did. II. Despite the black migration to northern cities that had begun before WWI, as late as 1940 more than 75% of African Americans still lived in the south. Nearly all the farmers who were black lived in the south, their conditions scarcely better than they had been at the end of Reconstruction. A. Only 20% of black farmers owned their own land; the rest toiled at the bottom of the exploitative southern agricultural system as tenant farmers, farmhands, and sharecroppers. III. Throughout the 1920s southern agriculture had suffered from falling prices and overproduction. The depression made an already desperate situation worse. A. Some black farmers tried to protect themselves by joining the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, which was founded in 1934. The STFU was one of the few southern groups that welcomed both whites and blacks. B. Landowners had a stake in keeping black and white sharecroppers from organizing, and they countered the union’s efforts with repression and harassment. C. In the end the STFU could do little to reform an agricultural system dependent on a single crop— cotton. The Scottsboro Case I. Blacks encountered other forms of discrimination and harassment, often violent, in the 1930s. lynching’s and miscarriages of justice increased.
A. In a celebrated case in 1931, a freight motor pulled into Scottsboro, AL, carrying a number of hoboes and transients who had caught a free ride. Sherriff’s deputies arrested 9 black men for fighting some of the white hoboes. B. Two women in men’s clothing claimed that the men had raped them. The officers accepted the charge without question. C. Two weeks later juries composed entirely of white men found the defendants guilty and sentenced 8 of them to death.
D. Though the Supreme Court overturned the sentences in 1932 and ordered new trials on the
grounds that the defendants had been denied adequate legal council, 5 of the men were eventually reconvicted. II. The youth of the Scottsboro defendants, their hasty trials, and the harsh sentences stirred public protest, prompting the International Labor Defense, a labor organization closely tied to the American Communist Party, to take over their defense. A. The communist party had targeted the struggle against racism as a priority in the 1930s but was making little headway with the recruitment of blacks. B. White southerners resented the interference of those radicals as well as the fact that almost all those involved in the Scottsboro defense were northerners and Jews. III. The case was complicated by the southern myth of the inviolate honor and chastity of white womanhood. When a white southern woman claimed to have been raped by a black man, she was taken at her word. IV. The Scottsboro case received wide coverage in black communities across the country. It provided black Americans with a strong incentive to head for northern and Midwestern cities. A. The lure of the north was offset by the lack of economic opportunities caused by the depression. Harlem in the 1930s I. Harlem’s housing facilities and community services had already been strained by the enormous influx of African Americans in the 1920s, and the depression aggravated the situation. A. Residential segregation kept blacks from moving elsewhere, so African Americans paid excessive rents to live in deteriorating buildings. B. Crowded living conditions caused disease and death rates to climb. C. As whites clamored for jobs traditionally held by blacks, unemployment in Harlem rose 50%, twice the national average.
D. At the height of the depression, shelters and soup kitchens staffed by the Divine Peace Mission,
provided meals. In March 1935 Harlem exploded in the nation’s only major race riot of the decade. Anger about the lack of black jobs, a slowdown in relief services, and the economic exploitation of the black community had been building for years. The arrest of a black teenage shoplifter, and rumors that he had been severely beaten by the police, triggered the riot. III. The picture was not totally bleak for African Americans in the 1930s. the New Deal under FDR would channel significant amounts of relief money toward blacks outside the south, partly in response to their 1935 riot but mainly in return for growing black allegiance to the Democratic party. A. The NAACP continued to publicly challenge the status quo of race relations. B. Although calls for racial justice went largely unheeded during the depression, WWII and its aftermath would further the struggle for black equality. Dust Bowl Migrations I. Distressed conditions in agriculture had been on the causes of the GD. In the 1930s things only got worse for farmers, especially those living on the Great Plains. The decade became known as the “Dirty Thirties” because of dust storms caused by a drought that began in 1930 and lasted until 1941. II.
Farmers who moved onto the GP after the 1870s had always risked the ravages of drought. But low rainfall alone did not create the Dust Bowl. A. National and international forces, such as the demand for wheat during WWI, had caused farmers to push the farming frontier beyond its natural limits by working increasingly marginal land to capture a profit. B. After the land had been stripped of its natural vegetation, the delicate ecological balance of the plains was destroyed, leaving nothing to hold the soil when the rains dried up and the winds came. III. This ecological disaster caused a mass exodus from the land. Thousands of farmers loaded their belongings into cars and headed west along Route 66 to CA. IV. Western migration was a response to both hard times and was part of the larger migration out of the nation’s agricultural heartland that had begun around WWI and continued through the 1970s. A. Not all Okies were destitute dirt farmers. Many were participating in chain migration, following family or friends to a specific place. V. Before the 1930s, CA had already pioneered a type of agriculture different from that practiced by southwestern and Midwestern farmers. Agriculture in CA was large-scale, intensive, and diversified. A. The state’s wealth came primarily from specialty crops whose staggered harvests required a great deal of transient labor for short picking seasons. The steady supply of cheap migrant labor provided by Chinese, Mexicans, Okies, and East Indians made such farming economically feasible. VI. Encouraged by promises of work in CA, southwesterners headed there in the 1930s. some went to metropolitan areas, but about half settled in rural areas. A. The surplus labor ensured growers a supply of cheap labor, usually docile and willing to work at any price. VII. Those migrants had a lasting impact on CA culture. At first they encouraged hostility from old-time Californians, a demoralizing experience for white, native-born Protestants who were ashamed of the negative Okie stereotype. A. Soon communities in the rich agricultural region of central CA took on a distinctly Okie cast, identifiable by southern-influenced evangelical religion and the growing popularity of country music. Mexican American Communities
The Mexican American experience in the West differed from that of the Dust Bowl refugees. In the depths of the depression, with American fears about competition from foreign workers at its peak, almost 1/3 of the Mexican American population returned to Mexico. A. A formal deportation policy instituted by the US government was partly responsible for the exodus, but many left when they ran out of work and local relief agencies refused to help them. B. Pervasive racism, coupled with the proximity to Mexico, made Mexicans the only immigrants targeted for deportation during the depression. The deportation of Mexican Americans was not a response to the arrival of migrants from the Dust Bowl. Mexican migration to the US increased steadily throughout the 20th century. The importation of cheap Mexican labor continued throughout the 1920s. A. The influx of Spanish-speaking migrants with their own culture helped shape the patterns of life and work in the Southwest and the West. Discrimination and exploitation were omnipresent in Mexican communities. Not all Mexican Americans were migrant farmers. A significant number lived in urban areas and held industrial jobs where they established strong traditions of labor activism. A. Labor activism was not limited to men.
In CA, Mexican Americans also found employment in fruit and vegetable processing plants, especially young and single women who preferred the higher wages of cannery work to domestic service, needlework, and farm labor. A. Corporate giants dominated CA’s food-processing industry. B. In 1939 labor unions came to the canneries in the form of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America—an usually democratic union in which women played a leading role. VI. This activism of the 1930s demonstrated how the second generation of Mexican immigrants increasingly turned its orientation toward issues of political and economic justice in the US, rather than retaining primary allegiance to Mexico. A. Joining American labor unions and becoming more involved in American politics were important steps in the creation of a distinct Mexican American ethnic identity. Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression I. Once elected, Hoover promised, he would preside over an era of Republican prosperity and governmental restraint. He insisted that the economic downturn was only temporary. The Republican Response I. Hoover’s early efforts to fight the Depression are now seen as predecessors of many New Deal programs, and his reputation among historians has risen steadily over the years. II. Hoover’s approach to the GD was shaped by his priorities as secretary of commerce; he turned to the business community for leadership in overcoming the economic downturn. A. Hoover asked businesses to maintain wages voluntarily, keep up production, and work with the government to build confidence in the system. Fiscal Policy I. Hoover did not rely solely on public pronouncements but also used public funds and federal action to encourage recovery. Soon after the stock market crash he cut federal taxes and called on state and local governments to increase capital spending. A. the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act gave the federal government its largest role to date in a program of agricultural stabilization and farm relief. B. In 1930 and 31 Hoover raised the federal public works budget. He also eased the international crisis by declaring a moratorium on the payment of Allied debts and reparations early in the summer of 1931. C. The federal government’s efforts to stimulate business activity were moderately effective, but the depression continued. II. By 1931 more drastic action was required, but Hoover faced a crucial dilemma that had been created by the Federal Reserve’s contraction of the money supply. If he embraced deficit financing and increased government spending, interest rates would remain high, since the federal government would be competing for borrowed capital with corporations and private investors. A. Hoover decided that significantly higher interest rates posed the greater economic danger to recovery, so he asked Congress for a tax increase to balance the budget. B. The Revenue Act of 1932 represented the largest peacetime tax increase in the nation’s history. Like monetary restriction, higher taxes choked both consumption and investment and contributed significantly to the severity of the GD. III. Not all steps taken by the Hoover administration were so ill-conceived. Hoover pushed Congress to create a system of government home-loan banks in 1932 and supported the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1932, which made government securities available to guarantee Federal Reserve notes and thus temporarily propped up the ailing banking system. A. The federal government under Hoover also spent $700 million on public works. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation
The centerpiece of Hoover’s new initiative to combat the depression was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which Congress approved in Jan 1932. A. Developed in collaboration with the business and banking communities, the RFC was the first federal institution created to intervene directly in the economy during peacetime.
B. The alleviate the credit crunch for business, the RFC would provide federal loans to railroads,
financial institutions, banks, and insurance companies in a strategy that had been called pump priming. C. In theory, money lent at the top of the economic structure would stimulate production, which in turn would create new jobs and increase consumer benefits. D. The agency’s cautiousness in lending money limited its influence/ II. The RFC was a watershed in American political history and the rise of the state. When voluntary cooperation failed, the president turned to federal action to stimulate the economy. A. Yet Hoover’s break with the past had clear limits. In many ways his support of the RFC was just another attempt to encourage business confidence. III. Federal programs fell far short of helping the growing ranks of the unemployed. Hoover remained adamant in his refusal to consider any plan for direct federal relief for unemployed Americans. Throughout his career he believed that private organized charities were sufficient to meet social welfare needs. Rising Discontent I. As the depression deepened, many citizens came to hate Hoover. He became the scapegoat for the depression. His declarations that no one was starving and that hoboes were better fed seemed cruel and insensitive, and his apparent willingness to bail out business and banks while leaving individuals to fend for themselves added to his reputation. II. In 1932, as the country entered its fourth year of the depression, signs of rising discontent and rebellion began to emerge.
A. Farmers were among the most vocal group, banding together to harass the bank agents and
government officers who enforced evictions and farm foreclosures and to protest the low prices they received for their crops. B. Farmers barricaded roads and resorted to dumping crops because they were too expensive to grow. III. Protest was not confined to rural America. Bitter labor strikes occurred during the depths of the depression, despite the threat that strikers would lose their jobs. A. In 1931 and 32 violence broke out in the nation’s cities. Groups of unemployed citizens battled local authorities over inadequate relief; people staged rent riots and hunger marches. B. Some of these urban actions were organized by the Communist Party, such as “unemployment councils” that agitated for jobs and food and coordinated a hunger march in Washington DC. C. The marches were well-attended and often got results from local and federal authorities, but they did not necessarily win converts to communism. IV. It was not radicals but veterans who staged the most publicized and tragic protest. In summer 1932 the “Bonus Army,” a group of unemployed WWI veterans, went to Washington to demand immediate payment of their bonuses. A. While their leaders unsuccessfully lobbied Congress, members of the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” camped out in the capital. When the marchers refused to leave their camps, Hoover called out riot troops to clear the area. The 1932 Election I. Despite evidence of discontent, the nation was not in a revolutionary mood as it approached the 1932 election. Despair and apathy, not anger characterized the feelings of most citizens. A. The Democrats turned to FDR, who capitalized on NY’s innovative relief and unemployment programs to win the nomination.
The 1932 campaign foreshadowed little of the governmental activism that would characterize the New Deal. The election marked a turning point in American politics—the emergence of a Democratic coalition that would dominate political life.
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