Thursday, March 4, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: March 4, 1933, The New Deal Begins

March 4, 1933: A new President is inaugurated, and it begins a new era in American history.

A few of our transfers of power have been fraught with worry:

* March 4, 1797: The 1st transfer of power, from George Washington to John Adams. It turned out not to be anything to worry about, but that was far from certain at the time, since no one, not even the brilliant and highly talented Adams, had Washington's gravitas.

* March 4, 1801: The 1st transfer of power from one party to another, from Adams, a member of the Federalist Party, to Thomas Jefferson, founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, whose members called themselves "Republicans," but would eventually evolve into the Democratic Party. 

Once closely linked in the fight for independence, now estranged and bitter enemies, Adam had appointed what became known as "midnight judges" at the end of his Administration, with the intent of holding Jefferson back from perceived extreme measures. But Jefferson's 2 terms in office turned out to be comparatively peaceful. The friendship would later be restored.

* March 4, 1861: With the threat of civil war becoming very real, James Buchanan handed the Presidency over to Abraham Lincoln. Threats against Lincoln's life had already been made, and he practically had to sneak into Washington. He tried a conciliatory Inaugural Address. It didn't work.

* March 5, 1877: The disputed election that put Rutherford B. Hayes in as the next President, despite Samuel J. Tilden having received the most popular votes and, it appeared at first, the necessary Electoral votes, infuriated people to the point where another civil war seemed possible: The cry from the Democrats was "Tilden or blood!" And it wasn't officially settled until March 2. To complicate matters further, the usual Inauguration Day, March 4, fell on a Sunday: The official ceremony at the Capitol was set for the following day.

To simplify things, the outgoing President Ulysses S. Grant, suggested that Hayes take the Oath of Office in the White House on March 3, taking effect at noon on March 4, so that he would already be the President on March 5, so that the Inaugural ceremonies would essentially be going through the motions for public display. There was no violence.

* January 20, 1981: The 20th Amendment had moved Inauguration Day up, largely because of the events of 1933. President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and President-elect Ronald Reagan, a Republican who had overwhelmingly defeated him in a bitter election, were not friendly with each other. But that wasn't the problem.

The problem was that Carter was finally close to getting 52 hostages released by Iran, but the Iranian government decided to keep them in custody until after noon, U.S. Eastern Time, to deny Carter a full victory. Their plane ended up clearing Iranian airspace at 12;35 PM Eastern. While Carter went to meet them at the U.S. Air Force base in Weisbaden, West Germany, it was Reagan who welcomed them to the White House, making it look like he was taking credit for it. He did nothing to make their release happen.

* January 20, 1993: Despite a bitter campaign, President George H.W. Bush, Republican, and President-elect Bill Clinton, Democratic, had made peace with each other in the transition. But there was a situation involving Iraq on the last day of Bush's term. Bush suggested that his national security team remain in charge for a few hours more, and Clinton agreed. The situation was settled, and Clinton's team began their terms.

* January 20, 2001: Bush's son, George W. Bush, had emerged victorious over Clinton's Vice President, Al Gore, under dubious circumstances. There were protestors at the Capitol for the Inauguration, but there was no violence.

* January 20, 2017: Again under dubious circumstances, a Republican who did not win the popular vote took the office. This time, it was Donald Trump, the most underqualified incoming President ever, and the most psychologically unfit. Violence was feared. There was none.

* January 20, 2021: Joe Biden had beaten Trump, but after the attack on the Capitol while the Electoral Votes were being certified, people were afraid that another attack would be launched. This time, there was enough of a deterrent force on hand that the would-be second-time insurrectors did the smart thing, and stayed away.

If anything, the events of March 4, 1933 were fraught with even more worry than 2021 -- or even 1861.


For it was the depth of the Great Depression. Within 8 months of taking office as President on March 4, 1929, Herbert Hoover saw the stock market crash on his watch. He wasn't responsible for it. And it would be unfair to say he did nothing about it. A fairer statement would be that he didn't do enough things, and that he didn't take the things he did do, which did help a little, far enough.

So, in the 1932 election, he lost in a massive landslide to the Governor of New York, a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The interregnum between the election on November 8 and the Inauguration on March 4 was interminable, as a bitter Hoover, like Trump with Biden 88 years later, shared nothing with FDR and his team. Essentially Hoover sabotaged his own best chance at leaving office on a high note.

As a result, things got worse. Banks were failing all over the country. People were terrified. The American economy was on the brink of complete collapse, more so than it had been during the "panics" of 1791, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1869, 1873, 1893 and 1907, even ore so than during the Crash of 1929. And, as it turned out, more than during the Crash of 1987, the economic free-fall of 2008, and the drop during last Spring's coronavirus crisis.

Inauguration Day fell on a Saturday, and this may have been for the best, as the banks would have been closed anyway.

Roosevelt is sworn in, and makes the most important Inaugural Address in the history of the office. It wasn't just the conditions that were the problem, is was the fear of the problem, that he wanted to address, the fear that was making things worse. On that subject, it is fair to say that Hoover did nothing. Roosevelt did something right off the bat:

My friends: I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that, on my induction into the Presidency, I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels.

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. 

Despite a light rain falling on Washington for most of the day, the Inaugural crowd may have been the biggest in history to that point, and a great cheer went up.

Roosevelt promised "action, and action now!" He acted on it. Over the weekend, he set in motion the policies that embodied what he called, during the campaign, "a new deal for the American people." His New Deal measures included keeping the banks closed for a week, so they could straighten out their own situations. When they reopened on March 12, they were secure, and the nation's recovery began.

It would be long and slow, but FDR's New Deal measures helped millions of people get by. Had he only served 2 terms, and someone else had led the nation through World War II, FDR would still be remembered as one of the nation's greatest and most important Presidents. His leadership during World War II would put him up there with Washington and Lincoln as 1 of the 3 greatest.

There have been, essentially, 4 eras of American history:

* The Colonial era, beginning with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 (note that I'm not saying that he "discovered America"), and lasting until the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

* The Revolutionary era, from the Declaration until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

* The next era, whatever name you want to give it, lasting from the end of the Civil War until the start of the New Deal in 1933.

* And the era that began with the New Deal. If you want to say that, sometime since 1933, that 4th era ended and a 5th era has begun, I don't know what your line of demarcation would be. Neither the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, nor the Inauguration of Reagan in 1981, nor that of Clinton in 1993, nor the 9/11 attacks of 2001, nor the arrival of Trump in 2017, nor the leaving of Trump in 2021 carries the same amount of historical weight, nor is likely to.


On this Saturday, March 4, 1933, baseball teams were starting Spring Training, the NFL was out of season, and the NBA hadn't been founded yet. There was only the NHL to provide games and scores. Even then, there were slim pickings:

* Only one American-based team was scheduled to play: The New York Americans lost to the Montreal Canadiens, 2-0 at the Montreal Forum.

* And, in a game broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's most popular radio show, which would become, and remains, the CBC's most popular television show, Hockey Night In Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Maroons, 4-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

* The Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators had last played on March 2, against each other at the Ottawa Auditorium, with the Wings winning 3-2. They would play each other again on March 5, at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit, with the Wings winning 2-0.

* The Chicago Black Hawks had also last played on March 2, beating the Americans 3-2 at Chicago Stadium. They would next play on March 5, also at the Stadium, losing to the Maple Leafs 2-1.

* The Boston Bruins had last played on February 28, against the Senators at the Boston Garden. It ended in a 0-0 tie.

* The New York Rangers hadn't played since February 26, a 4-1 win over the Hawks in Chicago. Their next game would also be the Bruins' next game, on March 5, at what was then called the new, but would eventually be called the old, Madison Square Garden, and the Bruins won 2-1.

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