America’s Mount Everest

This black-and-white cartoon from 1936 depicts Franklin Roosevelt, two American youths, and an old man staring off at a mountain labeled 'Unemployment Problem.' Roosevelt and the two youths look hopeful and strong while the old man is sitting down and saying 'It can't be done.'
America’s Mount Everest

America’s Mount Everest

John Francis Knott – April 15, 1936

The cartoon, published in April of 1936, is a poignant commentary on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal Domestic Program and the way it was received by critics and the general public (Knott). In 1936 FDR was receiving harsh criticism for his New Deal. Roosevelt explained to the American people that his New Deal program would seek to deliver relief, recovery, and reform—what he called the “3 R’s.” Opponents called it socialistic, overly idealistic, and bound to fail. Some even ventured to say it would ruin the economy and worsen unemployment (Baughman). On the other end of the spectrum, supporters of the New Deal thought it could profoundly improve the economic situation in the United States. The article, ‘Roosevelt at the Baltimore,’ illustrates the polarized reaction to the New Deal. The New Deal caused fear and distrust of the government for some, yet hope for many others as well (Baughman). The political cartoon, ‘America’s Mount Everest,’ compares the as yet unclimbed Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, to America’s unemployment problem.

The article, ‘Roosevelt at the Baltimore,’ that accompanies this cartoon is a sharp-tongued criticism of contemporaneous speech Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave in Baltimore in 1936 discussing the unemployment problem and his New Deal. The article rather harshly states, “The President’s Baltimore speech is typical of the good intentions of the new deal and of its unreasoning qualities.” The article calls the New Deal idealistic, a “terrific drain on national resource,” “impossible,” and even compares it to “ultimate socialism” (“Roosevelt at Baltimore”). In Judith S. Baughman’s ‘The New Deal and its Critics,’ she points out that, “Critics feared at times that the New Deal was the authoritarian mechanism whereby the American voters traded their freedom for economic security” (Baughman). The author continued with a discussion of the vast public fear and distrust of such a game-changing government regulation as the New Deal would later prove to be.

The humor in this cartoon comes from this critical disapproval of the New Deal by the Republicans, industry, and the wealthy.

Knott’s cartoon compares Mount Everest, the highest peak on Earth, to the enormous unemployment problem in the U.S. during the Great Depression. President Roosevelt is climbing to the peak with a young man and woman who represent the ‘American Youth.’ ‘Old Man Apathy’ is the old man sitting on a rock and not climbing. A speech bubble above him quotes him stating, “It can’t be done.” He referring to the fact that FDR and the two youth have climbing gear and are attempting to begin their climb to the summit of the U.S. unemployment problem. This is a poignant cartoon because, at the time, Mount Everest had still not been climbed and like the unemployment problem, had not been overcome (Topham). The weight of the cartoon is depicted in the hopefulness of FDR and the American Youth. Unlike FDR, the old man depicts the negativity of the critics to FDR’s New Deal, especially the Republicans, industry, and those with wealth.

The article, ‘Roosevelt at Baltimore’, situated on the same page as the cartoon, is a harsh criticism of both FDR and his New Deal. It lampoons FDR’s speech, saying it “is typical of the good intentions of the new deal and of its unreasoning qualities” (“Roosevelt at Baltimore”). The article goes on to explain the author’s opinions and reactions to the programs of the New Deal. The author is not only critical but also highly skeptical for the success of the programs including the minimum working age, the retirement age, and job creation through shared work schedules. The article uses cursory calculations in its attempt to prove that FDR’s plan to increase employment could not succeed. The calculations the author employs are biased. The author purposely leaves out many factors and facts that would be necessary to fairly describe how the plan would work and to make a prediction as to the outcome.

President Roosevelt’s optimism for the New Deal programs eventually resulted in the establishment of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which set maximum hours and minimum wages amongst other things (Baughman). Optimism is reflected in Knott’s political cartoon illustrating the force of will that ultimately held the country together through the Great Depression.

Works Cited

Author Not Listed. “Roosevelt at Baltimore.” The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Aug. 1936: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Address to the Young Democratic Club, Baltimore, Md.,” April 13, 1936. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.             <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15280>.

Judith S. Baughman. “The New Deal and its Critics.” American Decades. Ed. et al. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Oct. 2014.

Knott, John F. “America’s Mount Everest.” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Apr. 1936: n. pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/02261/cah-02261.html>.

Topham, Andrew. “Sir Edmund Hillary: First Ascent of Mount Everest.” Time.com. Time Magazine, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2014. <http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1702756,00.html>.

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