In 1933, as the United States sought to pull its struggling economy out of the Great Depression, the American people looked for guidance from newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR promised to reform the damaging actions brought on by his predecessor, President Herbert Hoover, and to improve the nation’s economic state. John Knott’s political cartoon, “Regardless of Dress,” addresses one of the many reforms enacted as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal: specifically, the Economy Act of 1933. This act reduced the amount of federal aid given to banking and veteran programs to equalize treatment of struggling American citizens. Evoking parallels to Andrew Jackson’s populist slogan, “equal rights to all, special privileges to none,” Knott’s illustration underscores the importance of Roosevelt’s impact on veterans and the banks through his New Deal economic recovery programs.
The Great Depression was the period from 1929-1939, during which time the American economy took an unprecedented downturn. After the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, the nation’s economic state began a precipitous decline, as consumer spending and investment plummeted. Job scarcity became such a widespread problem that by 1932, the nation’s unemployment rate had risen to 25% (Baughman “The 1930s: Government and Politics: Overview”). Hoover’s spending approach for aiding the effects of the Great Depression was an inclination to give “indirect aid to banks or local public works projects, but he refused to use federal money for direct aid to citizens” (Hoover “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History”). During Hoover’s Presidency, America’s budget deficit ballooned from a $734 million surplus in 1929 to a $2.7 billion deficit in 1932 (Morgan “Deficit Spending”). To compare it to today’s standards, while the 2017 federal government’s deficit rose to $668 billion, an $82 billion increase, that remains only a 12% increase rather than the 663% rise during Hoover’s term (Niv “US Deficit Spending Reached $668 Billion in Fiscal 2017”). Roosevelt’s election in 1932 brought on a series of reforms aimed to counter Hoover’s tactics. In his approach to economic recovery, however, FDR adopted a populist approach for addressing the struggles of the common man.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1932, his actions immediately reflected the populist ideals of assisting ordinary American citizens, and his New Deal economic recovery plans were intended to directly help the American people. The First New Deal was a procession of economic reforms as well as a series of national aid and federal programs created with the purpose of bringing the United States out of the Great Depression; furthermore, these initiatives were promised to be implemented within Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office. Because an entire quarter of the US population was unemployed, these aid programs stretched across a swath of occupational categories and social classes (Baughman “The 1930s: Government and Politics: Overview”).
Programs such as the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), which provided $500 million in grants directly to states to “infuse relief agencies with the much-needed resources to help the nearly fifteen million unemployed,” were aimed at mitigating the subsidiary monetary channels that, in the past, had slowed progress of economic improvement (Lumen Learning “Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1941”).
Given the nation’s poor economic state, however, Roosevelt also aimed to refrain from unnecessary excessive spending. Thus, he introduced the Economy Act of 1933 which cut around $400 million from federal payments to veterans and $100 million from the payroll of federal employees (Morgan “Economy Act of 1933, Special to The New York Times). Not only did this act recognize the unequal distribution of governmental monetary resources, it also helped equalize funding through redistribution to people via Roosevelt’s newly created programs.
Alluding to the spending cuts spurred by the Economy Act of 1933, Knotts’ cartoon highlighted the shared sacrifice that was required for economic recovery, legislated in FDR’s populist policies, and inspired by Jacksonian Democratic themes. The illustration featured three figures: a banker/civilian, a veteran, and FDR. Roosevelt points to a banner hanging above their heads. The sign, which reads, “EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO NONE,” points to the reasoning behind the Economy Act of 1933 and FDR’s populist policies. During the Great Depression most US citizens were in need during those difficult economic times, and while FDR recognized the nation’s responsibility to those who served their country, he also stressed their equality with other citizens (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago”). Drawing on that ideology, Knott suggested Roosevelts’ similarity to another populist president, Andrew Jackson. The quote boldly displayed and pointed to by President Roosevelt reads, “EQUAL RIGHTS TO ALL SPECIAL PRIVILEGES TO NONE.” It is a famous populist slogan widely attributed to Andrew Jackson.
Jacksonian Democrats not only believed in maintaining a strong Federal Union but also in following the conviction that “no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another,” as well as in maintaining the assurance that “the already wealthy and favored classes would not enrich themselves further by commandeering, enlarging, and then plundering public institutions” (History.com Staff “Jacksonian Democracy” and Gale “Andrew Jackson”). By cutting their previous federal funding allowances, the aid given to veterans and the banking system was equalized by FDR when compared to other assistance programs. His actions were based on his affirmation of equal treatment of citizens and are directly and were comparable to Jackson’s views. Because veterans and banks were receiving significantly more aid compared to other institutions and groups, Roosevelt cut their funding, opening more opportunities for other struggling parties to receive monetary assistance, thus equalizing government aid program fairness (Knott “Regardless of Dress”).
“Roosevelt in Chicago,” an editorial that accompanied Knott’s cartoon, spelled out the aforementioned policies regarding veterans and banks alike and described Roosevelt’s take on the need for equalizing aid (re)distribution. The editorial discussed FDR’s emphasis on “the plain duties of citizenship,” another reference to Roosevelt’s Jacksonian-inspired populist agenda for economic recovery. Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in the dawn of a new American economic era in both its policies and reforms (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago”).
The Great Depression was a devastating period of American history for all US citizens. As the economy struggled, Roosevelt was not only faced with how to bring prosperity to the nation but also how to treat all social classes under his altering reforms. His actions highlighted the repetition of history and the new takes future leaders are able to implement to adjust for the times.
“Andrew Jackson.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 8, Gale, 2004, pp. 168- 172. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3404703247/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&si d=GVRL&xid=891df37f. Accessed 3 Apr. 2018.
Elis, Niv. “US Deficit Spending Reached $668 Billion in Fiscal 2017.” The Hill, 9 Oct. 2017, thehill.com/policy/finance/354542-us-deficit-spending-reached-668-billion-in-fiscal-2017.
History.com Staff. “Jacksonian Democracy.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2012, www.history.com/topics/jacksonian-democracy.
Hoover, Herbert. “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.” Nat Turner’s Rebellion,1831 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, www.gilderlehrman.org/content/herbert-hoover-great-depression-and-new-deal-1931–1933.
Knott, John. “Regardless of Dress” The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 1933.
Lumen Learning. “Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1941.” Lumen, Open SUNY Textbooks, courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-ushistory2os2xmaster/chapter/the-first-new- deal/.
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Morgan, Iwan. “Economy Act of 1933.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 268-269. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3404500154/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=b0474e7f. Accessed 3 Apr. 2018.
“Roosevelt at Chicago.” The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 1933.
Special to The New York Times. (1932, Dec 08). Text of the president’s message calling on congress for a curb on spending. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/99804009?a ccountid=7118
“The 1930s: Government and Politics: Overview.” American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., vol. 4: 1930-1939, Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3468301167/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=87193b62. Accessed 3 Apr. 2018.