According to the business cycle, economic activity is in a cycle that is both necessary and inevitable. The business cycle consists of expansion which is defined by increased output, employment, and profit, followed by contraction which includes decreased input, growing unemployment, and profit losses (Sherman, 2014). It is commonly accepted that this cycle contributes to the progression of a capitalist economy. Another key characteristic of the cycle is the belief that in a free market economy the government should limit its intervention and just let the cycle play out naturally. However, the Great Depression was a severe and unprecedented contraction period that lasted longer than expected, and the absence of the natural forces that led toward recovery called for government intervention in the form of expansionary fiscal policies (May, 2004).
The Great Depression started in 1929 for the United States, leaving devastating effects around the globe lasting throughout the 1930’s. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933 he immediately took action implementing the New Deal, which involved several federal programs that stimulated financial reforms and regulations. Although the New Deal’s purpose was to ignite the economy, many of the programs and reforms proposed never came to fruition due to the conflicting views in Congress. Those conflicting views were a commonality during the Great Depression and often were expressed through political cartoons.
On March 18, 1937, John Knott’s Speaking of Raising Taxes was published in the Dallas Morning News; during that time the United States was still consumed with the Great Depression and its ramifications. Depicted in the cartoon, Marriner S. Eccles was appointed as the head of the Federal Reserve Board, under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The supplemental editorial Eccles Explains, provided context for the cartoon. It stated that Eccles intended to balance the budget through an increase in taxes (“Eccles Explains”, 1937). This new tax proposal was part of a contractionary policy that would make it possible to balance the budget, which was at a deficit of 26.4 billion dollars (“1937 United States Budget”), at the cost of allowing the recession to continue. An alternative to this proposal was an expansionary policy that called for deficit spending and tax cuts in order to boost the economy onto a path towards recovery from the recession.
Speaking of Raising Taxes, depicted Eccles saying, “This is no money at all. Uncle.” in addition to holding a paper in his hand that reads “higher taxes to balance budget”. Sitting in front of him is Uncle Sam who’s saying, “Why not cut expenses and stop borrowing?” while clutching one of the many stacks of money lying around him labeled “record income tax returns.” Knott’s cartoon illustrates Eccles, the chairman of the federal reserve board, in a quandary with the Uncle Sam in trying to figure out the best means for restructuring the country in recovery from the Great Depression.
Before being appointed as chairman of the Fed, Eccles was assistant to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. Prior to going into politics, Eccles made his own conclusions as to what caused the Great Depression. His suggestions revolved around the concept that to keep a sound economy there must be constant movement of money. By this, he meant that instead of having money just sitting under large corporations and the rich, that money should be distributed among the lower income groups. This concept was similar to the idea of famous economist John Maynard Keynes and what is now known as Keynesian Economics. Keynesian Economics calls for expansionary policy in times of recession. (May, 2004) Keynesianism generally recommends countercyclical policies. For example, in order to suppress inflation, the government can increase taxes or reduce outlays.
Within the cartoon, Knott illustrates opposing views through a discussion between Eccles and Uncle Sam. In this case, Uncle Sam represents both the national government and the American people. Eccles stating, “This is no money at all. Uncle ” justified his proposal of higher taxes. The stacks of money lying around Uncle Sam labeled, “record income tax returns” represented what the outcome of what Uncle Sam said. With taxes being cut from such high rates the returns would be massive, revealing why Uncle Sam is clutching a stack of money. Taxpayers would then be able to spend their new disposable income and boost growth in the economy. The recurrence of the dilemma on whether to choose an expansionary policy or contractionary policy is inevitable as the economy is constantly changing.
“1937 United States Budget.” Rate Limited, federal-budget.insidegov.com/l/39/1937.
Amadeo, Kimberly. “Deficit Spending Is Out of Control. Here’s Why.” The Balance, 2 May 2017, www.thebalance.com/deficit-spending-causes-why-it-s-out-of-control-3306289.
“Eccles Explains.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 March 1937.
MAY, DEAN L. “Keynesian Economics.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 539-541. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404500304&asid=55eeb9551783fd782464aa2fc29212f7. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.
“Marriner Stoddard Eccles.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 22, Gale, 2004, pp. 160-162. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404708008&asid=2c560e98f0e4272451e86080b7aa4db2. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.
Sherman, Howard J. The Business Cycle. Growth and Crisis under Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Web. Retrieved 9 Nov. 2017, from https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/452516
Almost a decade after the start of the United States Great Depression, income tax rates in 1937 rose to a record high 79% for the top-earning bracket (“1937”). The head of the economy at the time was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), our 32nd President of the United States. When FDR took office in 1933, the economy was coming out of the Great Depression. However, people don’t realize the economy took another downturn in that decade, obviously not as severe, between late 1936 and early 1937. In the 1937 state of the union address, FDR declared a tax crisis (Roosevelt). At the time, income tax rates, corporate tax rates, and capital gain taxes all skyrocketed. Not only were regular taxes high, but direct “use” taxes on gasoline, alcohol, tobacco also soared with the government fiending for extra money to put towards social security (Roosevelt). Social security was one of the most pressing issues of the time, as funds were not enough to support retirees to the end of their lives. To change this, local, state, and national government taxed American citizens. Americans began to feel tangled in a ‘web’ of continuous taxes from every direction.
On tax day (April 15) in 1937, John Knott’s political cartoon, “Caught In The Web,” was published in the Dallas Morning News. In the cartoon, a working-class American is depicted being tangled up in what appears to be a spider web. Within the web is written “FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL TAXES.” The web has a very complex structure.
The web was supposed to represent the series of taxes imposed on citizens at the time, especially on tax day, by all levels of government. There was a clear meshing of federal, state and local governments, which represents the lack of strong federalism at the time. The man in the web conveyed the message that Americans had no way of escaping the ‘web’ of taxes they were entrenched in. Also, the man was extremely small in comparison to the web, again showing that Americans were overpowered by taxation. However, there’s irony here in that some of these taxes paid by the Americans caught in the web were going towards their own government-made retirement fund: social security. In other words, they were being forced to shrink themselves in a way. In addition, the fact that the web was so intricate and complex also suggests that the tax system at the time was extremely complicated, making it even more difficult for taxpayers to evade the system. Although paying taxes was a fact of life and a necessity for the survival of the nation, the 1930s tax collection system was inefficient. FDR was the first to suggest a consolidation in the tax system to reduce payments for hard-working people but still get the most out of the money collected.
In 1937, personal income tax rates reached an all-time high of 79% for the most wealthy Americans (those earning more than $750,000 per year). For reference, those earning more than $420,000 per year today (the top tax bracket) pay 39% (“1937”). To display the difference between these two rates, a person earning $1,000,000 today would pay $390,000 in taxes versus someone earning that same million dollars in 1937 paying $790,000! In 1913, the top-income tax rates were 7% (“1937”). A 66% rise in taxes occurred in just over 20 years to 1937. Something needed to be changed in the tax system.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to call for a government-wide tax consolidation effort. This would mean one level of government, federal, state, or local, would take charge of their respective tax categories like health care for the federal government or education for the states. This idea would avoid overpayment of taxes by citizens. Federalism, the division of power between the national government and the states, played a major role in this process. Although this system does bring in less tax revenue, it is actually more effective on the economy because decreased taxes increases buyers’ demand for luxury goods. Unfortunately, Roosevelt could never get the consolidation effort moving during his time in office, so therefore tax consolidation had to wait to be taken care of in the future.
As tough as high taxes were for American citizens, they were collected in large part due to insufficient social security funds. The inadequate social security system was described in the Dallas Morning News editorial alongside Knott’s cartoon. At the time, when income rates in specific were sky-high, many taxpayers tried to evade taxes, which was a federal offense. However, because of the huge amount of perpetrators of tax evasion at the time, it was almost impossible to enforce. This caused a problem for social security because the program depended on taxpayers’ money to fund retirement for older working people (Albright).
Social security was a seemingly perfect system. Young people pay towards others’ retirement and they get their retirement paid towards by the future generation of young workers. With tax evaders reducing tax revenue, social security suffered due to its low priority among government programs. Social security was an integral part of the American economy, and without it, people were forced to work longer, hurting business and housing markets that benefit from retirees. Overall, without full social security benefits for citizens, the entire economy began to collapse. To make up for this loss in revenue, many states began to increase already exorbitant income and property tax, but also add sales taxes, “use” taxes, and even additional taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and liquor, all very commonly used products at the time (Roosevelt).
President Roosevelt eventually steered the economy out of the doldrums after several years of frustrating tax levels. Income taxes lowered to standard, pre-Depression levels, and social security returned in full to the federal government. FDR was in charge of the economy when this mini economic depression took place. Due to its proximity to the Great Depression, it is often overlooked in American history. Social security and America’s complex tax system are the main issues displayed in John Knott’s cartoon “Caught in the Web.” Both of these issues remain contested to this day.
Admin. “US Inflation Calculator.” US Inflation Calculator, www.usinflationcalculator.com/.
Albright, Robert C. “‘Little Man’ Income Tax Threat Spurs Relief Slash.” The Washington Post (1923-1954),
Apr 16, 1937, pp. 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/150926167?accountid=7118.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “President Roosevelt Proclaims the End of Prohibition.” Prohibition, edited by Sylvia Engdahl, Greenhaven Press, 2013, pp. 73-78. Perspectives on Modern World History. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX2073900016&it=r&asid=9f5464026dea42d48de293eca499b11a. Accessed 18 Oct. 2017.
“1937 Federal Tax Rates.” Rate Limited, federal-tax-rates.insidegov.com/l/22/1937.
John F. Knott was born in Austria in in 1878 and emigrated in Iowa with his mother at the age of five. Hired as a cartoonist, Knott began working for the Dallas Morning News in 1905. Knott is famous for his character “Old Man Texas,” a proponent for transparency, capitalism, low taxes, and property rights. His cartoons became popular during World War I and historians believe his cartoons boosted the sales of Liberty Bonds. His cartoons have been reprinted in various magazines and newspapers since their original publication.
The cartoon that is displayed above is a depiction of the “Old Man Texas” character as a rural farmer in Texas. The setting is very rural and is clearly on the fencing line of a Texas farm or ranch. The character is hunched over reading a letter being held by a government man in a suit who is standing on the other side of a barbed wire fence. The cartoon is called “The Missionary in Cottonland,” referring to the man in the suit’s persuasive nature. The letter he is holding states, “The salvation of your soil and income depends on moderation in cotton planting – Join the co-operative soil conservation movement.” The letter is referring to the conservation movement started by President Roosevelt. The government man is urging the farmer to slow down his production of cotton (The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt).
At the time the cartoon was drawn the Texas cotton industry was booming. Agriculture and cotton farming had expanded from Central Texas to the Gulf Coast, and had steadily moved north. A small drought had begun in North Texas and there was fear of over-planting. Cotton is the most-drought resistant crop, so farmers felt inclined to switch from crops such as corn. Roosevelt feared that an increase in the acreage of cotton would increase supply too far, ultimately causing a significant drop in price. The cotton industry in the United State was already struggling because of the mass production in countries such as Brazil, Egypt, India, Sudan, Argentina, and Russia (Britton, Elliot).
Knott is suggesting that Texas farmers follow Roosevelt’s suggestions and switch to crops such a feed. On the side of the cartoon he writes a short column, and at the end wrote, “These foreigners got the jump on our farmers during the last few years and last season they supplied 14,222,200 bales of the world’s cotton consumption of 25,428,000. The United States supplied only 11,205,000 bales. Farmers should take a hint from these figures” (Roosevelt Warns Farmers). The direct language from Knott makes it clear that he strongly encourages that the spread of cotton acreage come to a stop. He uses two main arguments in his writing to support his claim. The first is that the environment and soil must be conserved or there will be no opportunity for future agriculture. The second is that the United States cotton industry is being trumped by foreign competition, and it would be beneficial for farmers to make the switch to other products and forms of agriculture.
Although both Roosevelt and Knott’s advice for farmers was clear, individuals could not turn away from short-term profit. By the 1920s three quarters of individuals working in agriculture were on cotton farms (Britton, Elliot). The United States cotton industry hit a crisis in the early 1920s. The entire industry saw a collapse due to overproduction and a widespread pest that destroyed certain strains of cotton. The introduction of man-made fibers also hurt the industry. By 1944, the first crop of cotton to be completely planted and harvested by machinery had been produced, marking the end of cotton farming boom (Britton, Elliot).
Knott’s cartoon represents the struggles agriculture has with the markets they belong to, and the constant battle with government institutions. As traditional farming has declined over the past century, this battle has become even more prevalent. Environmental concerns have also become an issue as the climate change narrative becomes more relevant. There is a connection between agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century and current times because of the continuing struggle for the industry. The solution to one problem is followed by an additional hurdle that must be passed. The industry is often glorified, and met with description such as “the backbone of our nation,” however there has recently been a lack of glory and benefit. The contemporary cartoon in my next blog post, entitled The Drought in California,regarding the recent devastating droughts in California and how they have effected modern farmers, will display how the struggles for the American farmer are just as real as they were when cotton used to be “king.”
Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Elliott, Fred c. and Miller, e. a. “Cotton Culture.” Britton, Karen Gerhardt and Elliott, Fred c. and Miller, e. a. n.p., 11 June 2010. web. 03 May 2017.
“The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.” U.S. Department of the Interior. N.p., 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 3 May 2017.
Knott, John. “The Missionary in Cottonland.” The Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1936.
“Roosevelt Warns Farmers.” The Dallas Morning News, 21 March 1936.
The political cartoon, “What’s the Next Play Going to Be?” by John Knott for the Dallas Morning News published October 28th, 1933, portrays a football team huddled together with “NRA” written on the back of their pants. The field goal in the back has a sign that reads, “’Nobody’s goin to tell us how to run our business,’” (Knott 2) and the opposing team is standing in front of the goal in tackling stances with angry looks on their faces. The men huddled in the group are slouched over as if they are defeated and don’t have a strategy to continue while the team in the back look ready to attack and finish the game. Knott’s cartoon demonstrates the opposition between businesses and the NRA, which was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 amongst his other New Deal propositions to cure the economy through industrial self-government.
The accompanying editorial, “A Test for the NRA,” provides context for the cartoon regarding Henry Ford and steel companies that oppose the National Recovery Administration. The steel companies wanted to run their own businesses, hence the sign hanging from the field goal, and to not be controlled by the government or by codification that moderated how the businesses ran. There were a select few Ford dealers who had accepted the blue eagle, but there were also others who opposed it, leaving the NRA at a predicament on whether to punish the steel companies or not. There was also a section of the National Industrial Recovery Act, a law passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to authorize him to regulate production, that stated that companies must recognize work unions, but the steel companies did not recognize the United Mine Workers of America, a labor union. Although the strikers were not recognized, they still refused to go to work despite the President’s demands. Furthermore, the NRA was having difficulties being in charge and keeping industries in check due to the clashing temperaments within the steel companies, which foreshadowed its own demise.
In 1929, the stock market crashed due to a decline in consumer spending and increase in unsold goods during World War I, leading to the Great Depression. When Franklin D. Roosevelt got elected in 1933, he enacted the New Deal in an attempt to hasten recovery from the Depression. The National Industrial Recovery Act was a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal program, and it authorized the President’s right to regulate production. The NIRA attempted to end the Depression through industrial self-government in which industries and businesses would draft codes of fair labor practices, such as set wages, maximum hours, and the right to withhold unions.
Along with the NIRA came the National Recovery Administration, which approved the codes of business. Hugh S. Johnson was in charge of the NRA, but he was not fit for the job due to his submissive character. He was afraid that the Supreme Court would rule out the NRA, so he depended on businesses to voluntarily cooperate with the codification and establish set wages and hours within their workplace. These codes meant change; unfortunately, prosperous companies, such as steel and automobile companies, were not happy with these conditions and refused to comply with them. They had their own successful methods and were not willing to change them as the NRA prompted to do so. Because the Depression was affecting the nation atrociously, production and jobs were necessary to keep the people alive, and the NRA allowed businesses to uphold restrictive policies that hindered the road to recovery. The NRA soon created a voluntary blanket code, in which set wages and hours were provided for businesses to expedite codification. Those who agreed to the blanket code were given a placard with a Blue Eagle, the symbol of the NRA, with the words “We Do Our Part,” that was to be placed on their windows, and consumers were only permitted to give their business to those who adhered to the blanket code.
The irony behind the cartoon lies within the players. Football is known to be in an intense sport in which the players put up a fight no matter the circumstance. However, the players huddled up in the center look worn out and ready to quit due to their inability to think of a “game plan” or solution. The “NRA” players aren’t living up to their expectations as football players; instead, they look like they do not belong in the game. Knott presents the NRA this way to portray the NRA’s weakness and inefficiency and to foreshadow the loss they were about to experience. The NRA’s downfall began when Johnson became erratic and caused various conflicts with government officials and businessmen. Code compliance became a problem, and the NRA let bigger industries get away with code violations. The NRA became so unpopular that it was compared to fascism and was also called “No Recovery Allowed.” The ideas held by the NRA were naïve in that they believed society would look past their interests to work together and better the nation. Due to this, the Supreme Court shut down the NRA and declared that the NIRA was an unconstitutional assignment of power to the president.
“What’s the Next Play Going to Be?” by John Knott reflects the conflict between the NRA and steel companies during the 1930’s. Steel companies were independently successful and did not want interference from administrations that were forcing new workplace conditions down their throat. However, not all steel companies were unanimous in their decision to adhere to or decline the blanket code, stressing the NRA as depicted in the editorial. The NRA was unsure of what they’d do, for they feared hurting the business of those who adhered to the blanket code. Because of the NRA’s inability to resolve conflict and take charge, the “NRA” team depicted in the cartoon is slumped over and defeated just as they were in reality.
Knott, John. “What’s the Next Play Going to Be?” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 28 Oct. 1933, sec. 11: 2. Print
“A Test for NRA.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News [Dallas, Texas] 28 Oct. 1933, sec 11:2. Print.
OHL, JOHN KENNEDY. “National Recovery Administration (NRA).” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 683-688. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.
John Knott’s political cartoon Come to Texas! provides an illustration of the decentralization of highly-centralized industries to Texas during the late 1930s. Depicting the decentralizing industries as a crowd of businessmen with briefcases marked “fair practices,” many highly-centralized businesses during this time were branching out, coming to Texas because of its better conditions towards the end of the Great Depression (Southwestern Industry). However, Texas was not content to accept just any company since a number of these industries were coming to Texas from a wealth of problems, leaving in their wake issues such as poor worker treatment (Gardner). The sign above the Texan’s head exemplifies this concern, cautioning against industries seeking to exploit Texas’ more-business-friendly economic climate in an effort to protect Texans. Texas is still happy to have the industries, hence the cartoon’s depiction of the Texan giving a warm welcome to the arriving industries; however, if the incoming industries wanted to employ Texans, they must first take care of Texans. The editorial entitled “Southwestern Industry” that accompanied Knott’s cartoon helps provide additional historical context for the events in the cartoon. It explains that while Texas had an abundance of raw resources, “relatively little progress [had] been made in the manufacturing of cotton and woolen cloth” (Southwestern Industry). This meant that many of Texas’ raw materials had to be shipped to industrial centers in other states to be processed, manufactured, and reimported once completed. The editorial goes on to advise that there “should be no welcome sign in Texas for the manufacturer who wants to get away from some other State merely because he is unwilling to pay fair taxes or reasonable wages” (Southwestern Industry). In a nutshell, the editorial maintains that increased manufacturing in Texas would be good for the state, but not at the cost of shoddy work practices coming to Texas with the intent of exploitation. Overall, Knott’s depiction of decentralizing industries coming to Texas provides an overview of the decentralization of jobs to Texas as well as Texas’ concerns with fair work practices.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, the unemployment rate dropped as the US started recovering from the Great Depression (“Miss Perkins Urges Job Security Plans”). Although the Great Depression didn’t completely end until the onset of World War II, Knott’s cartoon and the accompanying editorial were published in 1937 when the economic situation of the nation was starting to improve. While the highly industrialized and centralized areas of the US were only just starting to get back on their feet, Texas’ economy had fared better overall throughout the Depression (Hammons). The hardships faced by Detroit, Michigan, during the Great Depression provides a prime example of how dissimilar the conditions of industrialized and non-industrialized parts of country were. In the case of Detroit, all of the nation’s car production was centralized in a single area to allow the heads of business easy access to all of their production sites. However, when the economy took a sharp downturn in 1929, it became much harder for the average person to afford a car. When car sales tanked, that region crashed (Nystrom). Conversely, the lack of compact industries in Texas “helped to buffer Dallas from the worst of the Depression” (Hammons). Because Texas wasn’t as industrialized, it wasn’t hit as hard. The Depression was still crippling, but comparatively speaking, Texas fared marginally better.
In order to combat the troubles of highly-centralized production, centralized industries began to spread out, decentralizing production to other areas of the country (Southwestern Industry). According to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, decentralization “signifies the disbursement of power from the top down… lead[ing] to higher levels of efficiency” (Decentralization 250). To put it in layman’s terms, a centralized company branches out, setting up production in other places to take advantage of the different locations’ benefits, such as cheaper production, looser regulatory laws, cheaper labor, and closer proximity to resources. In this particular time period, decentralization was primarily used to diversify in response to the problems of highly centralized industries during the Depression (Bowman). Highly centralized industries began because of big-name tycoons, such as Ford or Rockefeller, because it was easier for management to oversee all of their productions by having them nearby (Jahn). However, just like the saying ‘having all one’s eggs in the same basket,’ the Depression hit those highly-industrialized areas the hardest, causing the highly-centralized companies to crash. Decentralization was harder on management since moving industries from Chicago to Texas meant no longer having immediate access to all nearby production; however, it was much better for the industries overall. The cheaper production costs and delegation of smaller tasks to other areas let management focus on the bigger picture instead of trivialities of day-to-day production (Jahn).
Due to its abundance of raw resources and available labor source, Texas made for a very promising-looking market for highly-centralized industries looking to decentralize. An especially alluring factor was Texas’ rapidly-growing market, meaning more workers in production and more buyers of finished products (Texas 822). In addition, by relocating branches of industry to Texas, companies didn’t have to pay such high transportation costs to import the raw resources and then ship the finished product from the North-East back to the South. Although Texas had an abundance of natural resources, such as cotton, wheat, wool, and cattle, it lacked the industries needed to process the raw materials, especially in the textile department (Southwestern Industry). By allowing industries centralized in other states to decentralize to Texas, Texas would also gain jobs and a boost to its economy. However, despite all the advantages the added industrial boost posed, both the editorial and Knott’s cartoon stressed the fact that there remained a number of possible drawbacks in allowing out-of-state industries to set up production in Texas.
That is the exactly the argument Knott’s cartoon presents. While the Texan depicted in the cartoon is happily receiving the incoming industries with his arms outstretched in welcome, the sign above the Texan’s head expresses the concern “No exploiters of cheap labor, tax dodgers or fly-by-night industries wanted” (Knott). The meaning drawn from Knott’s cartoon paints a picture of a state that wanted the benefits of industrialization – just not at the cost of adopting the problems that some of the industries brought with them. In looking at poor work practices in other areas of the country during the same time period, namely the case of the Radium Gals, the concern depicted in Knott’s cartoon becomes even more apparent. The Radium Gals were a group of women hired during the 20s and 30s to work at the Radium Dial company painting watch faces with a special radium paint (Suppan). Exploited by the company they worked for, these women were paid far lower wages than men and were slowly poisoned and killed by the radiation from the radium paint (Suppan). With such adverse publicity surrounding cases such as the Radium Gals, the editorial and Knott cartoon cautioned against accepting decentralizing industries that were seeking to exploit laborers or exercise dubious business practices (Gardner). Since companies that utilized shifty work practices were seen as “author of the general misery, … cutter[s] of wages, … and the tax-dodging embodiment of the general irresponsibility that pervades the American business community,” Texas was not keen on hosting industries that were going to exploit Texas’ market and workers (Castranovo 61).
In summation, Come to Texas! is a political cartoon by John Knott that provides commentary on the decentralization of industries to Texas towards the end of the Great Depression. Despite the fact that decentralizing industries presented numerous advantages to Texas, both the editorial and the Knott cartoon emphasize how important it was for Texas to be wary of allowing just any industry to relocate, stressing that if the decentralizing industries wanted to employ Texans, they had to take care of Texans.
Bowman, Joel. “The Great Decentralization.” Non-Dollar Report. Non-Dollar Report, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://nondollarreport.com/2014/11/economic-evolution-the-great-decentralization/>.
Castronovo, David. “The Artist as a Young Reporter.” Edmund Wilson Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1988. 51-71. Twayne’s United States Authors Ser. 695. Twayne’s Authors on GVRL. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
“Decentralization.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 250-251. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2598&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3045300532&asid=c07ec128b7f5c795f9358d1289944f66. Accessed 29 Nov. 2016.
Hammond, Carlyn. “The Great Depression and World War II – Texas Our Texas.” Texas Our Texas. Texas PBS, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://texasourtexas.texaspbs.org/the-eras-of-texas/great-depression-ww2/>.
Knott, John. “Come to Texas!” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News. 27 March 1937. Sec 2: 2. Print.
“MISS PERKINS URGES JOB SECURITY PLANS.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 11. Jan 01 1937. ProQuest. Web. 17 Nov. 2016 .
Nystrom, M. A. “Second Great Depression in Detroit.” Second Great Depression in Detroit | M.A. Nystrom | Safehaven.com. SafeHaven, 3 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <http://www.safehaven.com/article/10420/second-great-depression-in-detroit>.
“Southwestern Industry.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News 29 Mar. 1937, sec. 2: 2. Print.
Suppan, Heinz-Dietrich. Marking Time: The Radium Girls of Ottawa. N.p.: Outskirts, 2016. Print.
“Texas.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of the States. Ed. Timothy L. Gall. 7th ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. 803-31. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
The Campaign is On! is a political cartoon by John Francis Knott displaying the partisan views of New Deal policies as a solution to the Great Depression preceding the 1936 presidential election. It shows Franklin D. Roosevelt, the incumbent president and democratic nominee, holding up a sign with the words “MORE FOOD AND BETTER HOMES”, both promises of his New Deal policies. It also shows two men walking directly beside him, one labeled as a farmer and the other as a city worker. The cartoon then depicts a frustrated-looking elephant, symbolizing the Republican party, wearing a coat with the words “ANTI-NEW DEAL” and holding a sign that asks “WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THEM?” (Knott 2) This cartoon suggests that Franklin Roosevelt, farmers, city workers and the Democratic party wish to continue on with the New Deal as the solution for the depression, while it displays the Republican party’s skepticism and disapproval of such a measure.
The editorial “The Roosevelt address”, which the cartoon was paired with, described Roosevelt’s speech at the National Democratic Dinner in 1936. It explained that this particular speech was utilized by Roosevelt to launch his campaign for his second term in office. The writer also asserted how the two main points of his speech left him vulnerable to economic criticism. The first of Roosevelt’s claims being that the national income had increased dramatically during his presidency from 1932 to 1936, which the writer explained did not take into account the devaluation the dollar underwent during his first term in office. Roosevelt’s second claim expressed his disagreement with the Republican ideology that simply lowering manufacturing costs would lead to economic recovery. He believed it instead would result in either the displacement of workers by machinery or a decrease in wages while hours on the clock increased for workers. The writer of the editorial then followed up with citing Henry Ford’s manufacturing model which gave worker’s fair pay scales while still lowering manufacturing and sell cost (“The Roosevelt Address” 2).
In the late 1920s and the 1930s the worst economic depression the nation had ever endured took place. This infamous period is known as the Great Depression. Prior to total economic collapse, the country had already been trending towards a recession, however, a notable start to the depression took place on October 29, 1929 when the stock market crashed (McElvaine 151). This event alone was not the sole cause of the Great Depression, but it did spark a general reluctance of the population to invest in stocks. From 1929 to 1933, the overall “consumption levels declined by 18 percent and investment levels declined by 98 percent.” (Lawson 61) As a result of this, one-quarter of the available labor force was unemployed. The streets began to fill with homeless and breadlines began to grow. It became clearer and clearer that government intervention was required. Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor and a Republican, implemented some measures to combat the economic downturn, although not much was done under his administration. An honest effort by the government to relieve the economic pains of the Great Depression was not put into motion until Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.
During his first term in the White House, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs and agencies, which became known as the New Deal, to combat the damage being done by the Great Depression. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration were the first of many programs created under the banner of the New Deal to help control “prices, wages, trading practices, and production.” (Savage 845) The second major wave of New Deal legislation came in the form of the Social Security Act, the Wagner Act, and the Works Progress Administration. These measures aimed to increase consumption and decrease unemployment and also added “new social welfare benefits, such as retirement pensions and unemployment insurance.” (Savage 846) When the 1936 presidential election and the illustration of Knott’s cartoon came about, the country needed to decide whether to continue with such policies and reelect Roosevelt or to abandon the New Deal and bring in a Republican presidential elect.
Before the Great Depression was in full swing, the nation’s agricultural sector began to suffer in the 1920s. World War I had brought a large amount of agricultural growth to the United States. However, following the conclusion of the war, there began to be an overproduction of crops that flooded the market and impeded the farmers’ ability to make a profit (Lawson 62). Many of the country’s farms, particularly the ones at a larger scale, were being held afloat by New Deal policies such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. This measure aimed to limit the production of crops in order to raise prices to profitable levels. This straightforward plan by the Roosevelt Administration, as well as many incentives from the government, may have swayed many farmers of the time to align with the implementation of the New Deal. This is evident in a 1936 election report by the Los Angeles Times titled the “Vote of the Drought States” that shows major agricultural states of the Midwest displaying a majority of party votes for Roosevelt (“Vote of Drought States” 14).
Major cities in the United States, such as Los Angeles, Akron, and Detroit, experienced a rapid growth in population during the 1920s because of the increase in the number of industrial jobs, as well as the retail and service industries. The occurrence of the stock market crash of 1929 and the persistent economic decline that followed proved to be a challenge for the ill-equipped city governments to combat. This resulted in a decrease in the consumption of products which led to a surplus in the goods being produced. In reaction, industry began to cut production and commit massive layoffs of its workers. These now unemployed city workers could no longer afford to pay their mortgages and rents, this is lead to an increase in the presence of homelessness of these major industrial centers (Flanagan 311). This put these people in a position where government aid was a necessity and the Roosevelt administration up until the 1936 election had a demonstrated a willingness to do so. The New Deal policy, the Federal Relief Act, provided monetary aid to state funded unemployment compensation programs. Also the Civilian Conservation Corps provided work for thousands of jobless young men on federal oriented projects, such as reforestation, road building, and flood control (Kennedy 430). Through agencies, such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA), Roosevelt aimed to “secure the agreement of major industries to government-backed codes designed the to stop the downward slide of payrolls, prices, and production.” (Kennedy 431) Those specific measures might have proven to be ineffective because even after their implementation the economy still “remained sickly.” (Kennedy 432) However, these and many other policies displayed to city working voters a clear effort by the Roosevelt administration to provide assistance to a suffering demographic of the United States’ population. This is possibly what coerced many wage earning voters to side with Roosevelt during the 1936 election. This is displayed when an article that was published in the New York Times following the election stated that “the wage-earner votes might easily account for the landslide” Roosevelt victory (Huston E4).
The Republican party during the 1936 presidential election was firmly against the measures implemented by the Roosevelt Administration and as a result were “anti-New Deal”, as Knott’s cartoon suggests. During the Republican Convention of 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio, the party’s platform began with the sentence, “America is in peril” and “focused on the alleged threat of New Deal policies to American Constitutional government.” (“1936 Conventions” 117) Essentially the Republicans wished to place the majority of the burden of unemployment relief back into local and state governments. They also wanted to restrict the federal government from placing production regulations on agriculture and industry, which was done by the National Relief Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Alfred M. Landon, the Republican candidate, and the Republican party as a whole believed the New Deal had slowed the recovery of the economy by placing unnecessary obstacles in the way of private enterprise and industry (Merz E3).
The Democratic party during the 1936 presidential election was prepared to back Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. The Democratic Party Convention of 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania “was one of the most harmonious in party history.” (“1936 Conventions” 117) The party’s platform “supported the continuation of the extensive federal programs undertaken by the Roosevelt Administration” and expressed a necessary collaboration between federal and state governments to handle the issues brought about by the Great Depression (“1936 Conventions” 118). In an article published by the New York Times it is expressed that Roosevelt wished to divide the cost of relief between the national and state governments. Also Roosevelt expressed that the policies implemented by his administration did not slow down economic recovery, but instead brought “the return of confidence and the advance of business.” (Merz E3)
The Campaign is On! by John Francis Knott provides the viewer with a snapshot of various points of views on New Deal policies leading into the 1936 presidential election. Farmers at the time experienced a substantial loss in profit as a result of crop overproduction and the Great Depression. This group tended to side with Roosevelt and his New Deal policies for regulation and guaranteed profit. City workers began to struggle as a result of massive layoffs that took place in response to a rise in the surplus of goods. Wage-earners sided with the Roosevelt because of the measures taken in the form of industrial regulations and social projects implemented by his administration. Republicans at the time called for the abandonment of the New Deal, believing that it violated the United States’ Constitution and slowed down economic recovery. On the other hand, the Democrats and Roosevelt vouched for the continuation of the New Deal arguing that it had led to apparent improvements in the economy during his first term as president.
Flanagan, Richard. “Great Depression and Cities.” Encyclopedia of American Urban History. Ed. David Goldfield. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2007. 311-313. Print.
Huston, Luther A. “Labor and Farm Groups Big Factors in Voting: Credit for Outcome Shared by Small Cities and Large, Negroes and Whites, New Voters and Old.” New York Times, 8 Nov. 1936, p. E4.
Kennedy, David M. “Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Presidents: A Reference History. Ed. Henry F. Graff. 3rd ed. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002. 427-443. Print.
Lawson, Russel M. and Benjamin A. Lawson. “Great Depression.” Poverty in America: An Encyclopedia. Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 2008. 61-65. Print.
McElvaine, Robert S. “Causes of the Great Depression.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 151-156. Print.
Merz, Charles. “Issues the Campaign Has Brought to the Fore: With President Roosevelt Himself as the Chief Issue, These are Also Vital.” New York Times, 1 Nov. 1936, p. E3.
Savage, Sean J. “Roosevelt, Franklin D.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference, 2004. 838-849. Print.
“Vote of Drought States.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug. 1936, p. 14.
“1936 Conventions.” National Party Conventions 1831-2008. Washington DC: CQ Press, 2010. 116-118. Print.
In John Francis Knott’s 1933 cartoon “It Was a Fool’s Paradise,” we see a man and woman walking away from an apple tree labeled “tree of unlimited credit” (Knott). The snake wrapped around this tree makes the biblical allusion to Adam and Eve quite obvious. The couple is holding their stomachs with sick expressions on their faces. The obscene amount of apple cores found on ground tell the reader that this expression is likely caused by overindulgence. In the biblical tale of Adam and Eve the latter eats a piece of forbidden fruit and damns the rest of humanity to be compelled to sin. However when read with the accompanying article “We Just Thought We Had” it becomes obvious that Knott’s cartoon is not commentary on original sin, but rather on the frivolous spending of unsound credit in the United States a few years prior, and how it ultimately caused the Great Depression.
The humor of this cartoon is found in its incongruity with the original story. In the Bible Eve only took a single bite of an apple whereas this couple has eaten far too many to count. The innumerable apple cores littering the ground represent the greed and gluttony of 1920’s America, and Knott even goes so far as to imply that this is worse than original sin. This discrepancy also points blame at the American public and their careless spending,as well as the tempting “unsound credit” mentioned in the accompanying article (“We Just Thought We Had”). Knott parallels the immense spending of credit to this couples binging. The couple in the cartoon are clearly not dressed in the fig leaves like the biblical Adam and Eve, but rather in the plain clothes of 1930’s middle class Americans. Not only does this set them apart from Adam and Eve, but it sets them apart from the upper class, who are not affected by the economic crash as greatly as the lower and middle class (“Everyday Life 1929-1941″).
In the accompanying article, “We Only Thought We Had,” the Dallas Morning News comments on the use of unstable credit in 1929. They claim that the use of credit in the 1920’s was taking business away from the early 1930’s . The article is highly critical of this credit and employs multiple rhetorical questions throughout the article in order to force the reader to think about what was really going on. By asking the reader “where is all the money we used to have?” or “where is all the business we used to do?” the author is implying that there is no money and business anymore (“We Just Thought We Had). These rhetorical questions lead the reader into thinking a in a similar way to the author.
The forbidden fruit depicted in Knott’s cartoon is the seemingly unlimited credit of the previous decade. During the 1920’s the American economy was booming, and playing the stock market was all the rage. This ‘game’ of stocks became so popular that investors began to buy them “with little or no money down”, and soon the American use of credit would cause the market to collapse (Woodard). The stock market had seemingly become an embodiment of the American dream, and it soon became flooded with “small scale investors” looking to go from rags to riches overnight (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). The brokers who were handing out credit were playing a risky game, but as long as the market was growing they couldn’t lose (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”). However, as they always do, the stocks inevitably went down and “the great sell-off of 1929” brought the market, the brokers, the investors, and the entire American economy down with it (“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash”).
Knott’s cartoon compares the credit crisis of the early 1930’s to the story of Adam and Eve. The allure of the credit had been so strong to the American public, as well as the brokers, that in Knott’s cartoon unlimited credit is analogized with the proverbial apple that Eve ate. The most important aspect of this comparison is that of original sin. As the Dallas Morning News writes the economy of 1929 was conducting business that “legitimately belonged to 1933-35” just as Eve’s sin caused the downfall of human kind in the future, the gluttony of 1929 affected the future indefinitely (“We Just Thought We Had”).
“Everyday Life 1929-1941.” Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. Ed. Richard C. Hanes and Sharon M. Hanes. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002. 305-329. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
Knott, John Francis. “It Was a Fool’s Paradis.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.
“Playing the Market: The Effects of the Great Crash.” Social History of the United States. Ed. Daniel J. Walkowitz and Daniel E. Bender. Vol. 3: The 1920s. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009. 372-375. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
“We Just Thought We Had.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 29 Jan. 1933, sec. 3: 8. Print.
Woodard, David E. “Stock Market Crashes.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed.Thomas Woodard. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 722-724. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 6 Nov. 2015.
The Great Depression will forever be remembered as a time in America of great trials and tribulations, especially hunger and homelessness. John Knott effectively localized these concepts to the Dallas metropolitan area through his cartoon titled “Somebody at the Door,” which ran on December 16, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News. In the cartoon, Knott depicted a family standing outside a door that has a wreath with “Merry Christmas” written on it. There is a note in the bottom right-hand corner that says “Citizens Emergency Relief Fund,” and claims that every dollar donated to the said cause it attributed to feeding the “hungry of Dallas.” Significantly, a mother and her three children are standing outside, and there is an absence of a father figure. The youngest child is knocking on the door, and the middle child is expressing hunger to his mother, the figure that for so long was the provider of food in the family. In this way, the viewer understands the absolute desperation the homeless population of the Great Depression faced; all previous typicalities of life turned into unattainable luxuries, and the guaranteed home-cooked meal that was so long provided daily turned into a search for a charitable soul that would spare scraps of food.
By the end of 1930, the population of jobless people in Dallas was around seven percent. This statistic was uncharacteristic of Dallas, a city that had recently experienced an economic boom due to industries such as banking and railroads and was on the road to a population that exhibited extreme wealth(Hill 204). The city had a sixty-four percent growth rate between 1920 and 1930, and the elites of Dallas viewed their city as a progressive city with conservative politics (WPA 96). However, the atmosphere quickly changed in the 30s. Initially, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was slow to affect Dallas due to its recent status as a business mecca (WPA 96). However, the turn of the decade brought intense unemployment, homelessness, and even labor strikes. In 1931, the emergency relief committee requested the city government allocate $100,000 to help abate the atrocities of poverty and hunger that encompassed the city, and were bound to intensify as time continued(WPA 96). It is unfortunate to note that the majority of the little charity that was given by the people and government of Dallas was racially driven; the rise of the KKK in Dallas in the 1920s fueled racial tensions in the city that resulted in refusal of charity to blacks by many privately funded organizations—even religious charities such as the Salvation Army (Kusmer 196). This was one of the many examples of the absolute corruption present in Dallas at the time, which was further explained in both a news and editorial article that ran on December 16, 1931 in the Dallas Morning News.
The news story, titled “$1,000 sent to stave off starving,” discussed the first $1,000 donated to the emergency relief fund. Nathan Adams, president of the First National Bank in Dallas, was grateful for the generosity of the large anonymous donation, but did not fail to point out that there were many other able donors in the Dallas area. “Dallas is an affluent city, the resources of which have not been impaired by economic activity,” Adams said in an interview with the Morning News. He further pointed out that, while one individual paid his part, it was only one percent of the total amount of money needed to ensure the hungry ate that winter (“$1,000 Sent to Stave off Starving [Page 1]).
The editorial, “Hungry Christmas?” capitalized on that same sentiment, and appealed to the ethos of the reader by explaining that that children will be “crying, not because Santa didn’t come, but because breakfast didn’t.” By employing this emotionally-driven rhetoric, the author reached out to the entire public of Dallas with the hopes the image of a child starving would encourage donations. By associating the lack of Santa and the lack of hunger, there is an underlying hope that people will think about the hypocritical greed they so often exhibit during the season of giving, and how there are essentially more pressing issues that need monetary attention than lavish gifts (“Hungry Christmas?” [Page 2]).
The city of Dallas’ government was slow to implement policies regarding the homeless and poor on the level of the local government, yet the city still received federal funding (Rose 43). This came at a time when private charities were on the decline, as the wealthy who funded them started to decrease contributions due to the impending economic state of the country (Rose 43). As monetary backing decreased for these privatized charities, the demand for their resources increased(WPA 284). This is one of the main issues Knott illustrated in his cartoon; the lack of funding for the charities, coupled with Dallas’ slow movement of policies designed to benefit the poor and hungry, lead to a population of dismissed homeless people.
The mother in the cartoon is most likely a single mother who lost her husband to either death or divorce. Unfortunately, the first workers to loose their jobs in the 1920s were women, and government efforts to create jobs were often directed towards men, proving problematic to single women throughout the state (WPA 96-97). It is estimated that 70 percent of women who were the head of “transient” families, or families who spent much of their time illegally riding trains across the country in search of work and aid, were either widowed or separated (Kusmer 208). While Knott does not specify if the particular family depicted is transient, it is quite possible this was their fate, as Dallas was on the verge of becoming a major railroad hub before the Great Depression hit (Weinstein 115). Knott appeals to the pathos of the viewer by including young children, one of which is complaining to his mother—the figure he has relied on his whole life to cook and provide him with meals—about being hungry. These children were taught the evils of chance and possibility at a young age. Many children are naive to the concept of prolonged hunger or discomfort; for these children, hunger surpassed discomfort, and was taken to the level of a fight for survival in a world they only so recently entered.
The Great Depression favored the rich; it did not spare the lives of the poor, and completely disregarded the complexities of all human life, regardless of socioeconomic status. Many people learned to function on little to no food, as well as live off the land and accept death for what it is. This great tragedy is horrifying, yet its memorialization is essential to the American people. There is no better way to tell history than through the creative outlets of the people of the time, which is why Knott’s cartoon has proved important and survived the transience of time.
“$1000 sent to stave off starving.” Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 16 Dec. 1931, sec. II: 1. Print.
Hill, Patricia Evridge. “Dallas, Texas.” Encyclopedia of American Urban History. Ed. David Goldfield. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2007. 204-206. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.
Knott, John Francis. “Somebody at the Door.” Cartoon. Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 16 Dec. 1931, sec. II: 2. Print.
Kusmer, Kenneth L. Down & Out, On The Road : The Homeless In American History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
Rose, Harriett DeAnn. “Dallas, Poverty, and Race: Community Action Programs in the War on Poverty.” University of North Texas, 2008. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Weinstein, Bernard L., and Terry L. Clower. “Dallas.” Encyclopedia of Homelessness. Ed. David Levinson. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2004. 103-105. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the City of Dallas, et al.. The WPA Dallas Guide And History. [Dallas, Tex.]: Dallas Public Library, Texas Center for the Book , 1992. Print. 25 October 2015.
Renowned for his critical illustrations of early twentieth century United States politics, John Francis Knott fueled debate on American policy through his work with the Dallas Morning News. The vast majority of Knott’s career as a political cartoonist consisted of criticizing the government on a plethora of issues ranging from welfare to war (Perez). In his cartoon “No Time for Fiddling!” Knott humorously denounces Congress, through symbolic images, for squandering valuable time over frivolous partisan politics instead of mobilizing to save the American economy during the onset of the Great Depression.
Knott’s piece, published December 15th, 1931, contains various symbols, each one conveying a unique concern of the times: the bearded man representing righteousness and action, the flames representing an imminent threat, the fiddle representing partisan politicking, and the sitting man representing an incompetent Congress. Through these symbols, Knott creates a symphony of critiques, which scolds Congress for their petty antics.
Uncle Sam, the man standing and aggressively gesturing to the flame-ridden world, represents American pride and strength. Used initially for war recruitment ads, Uncle Sam became associated with America’s call to action and impending threats (“The Most Famous Poster”). Knott utilizes this well-known American symbol to rhetorically attack the United States Congress, calling it to action to address and acknowledge the “WORLD’S DISTRESS.”
The accompanying editorial article titled “The Gold Standard” addresses the economic state of the world, and countries’ suffering due to reluctance to depart from the gold standard. It emphasizes that the United States is currently in a severe financial depression, later called the Great Depression, and continues on to request action from Congress to solve the economic suffering experienced by the world. Additionally, the departure off the gold standard by select countries (e.g. Japan, countries of the United Kingdom, Argentina) destabilized trade in regions since these countries were now trading in deflated currencies, which resulted in a significant negative impact on foreign economies (“The Gold Standard”). Beginning with Black Tuesday, the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, America spiraled into economic turmoil along with the rest of the world. The general consensus of historians blames the downward spiral primarily on Congress, which at the time was not willing or able to engage in some sort of expansionary fiscal policy or depart from the gold standard (Smiley).
Knott’s visualization displays Congress as a rotund geezer slouching on a chair with a fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” in his hand. The large man has a look of both anger and frustration on his face while confronted by Uncle Sam. Clearly, Knott’s physical representation of Congress serves to associate the politicians with languidness, incompetence, and ignorance. The cartoon serves as critical commentary on the lack of bipartisan action in Congress during 1931, when the members of Congress were split almost evenly between the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic (“72nd Congress”). Republican policy, primarily characterized by its isolationist view on foreign policy and disdain towards governmental intervention, essentially acted as a catalyst for the Great Depression (“Republican Party Platform of 1928″). The debate regarding individualism versus intervention played a key role in the Great Depression, since it was individualism, supported by the Republicans, that led to the Great Depression, and intervention, supported by the Democrats, which brought the economy out of the Great Depression.
The fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” generates most of the humor in the cartoon. The term “fiddling around” alludes to the colloquial phrase, “fiddling while Rome burns.” The phrase is a reference to a rumor that the Roman Emperor Nero played a lyre while Rome burned (“fiddle while Rome burns”). Knott draws a parallel, underscoring the point that in 1931 Congress was fiddling with partisan politics while the world was on the brink of destruction. Additionally, Knott lampoons Congress by drawing it as a plump old fogy, who appears to be clueless. The negative connotations created by the countenance and physique of Congress effectively delivers the point that Congress was absent-minded and only capable of fiddling around instead of acting.
“No Time for Fiddling!” serves as a vessel both to criticize a self-interested and ineffectual Congress and to draw attention to the chaos and despair of the world around them. A progressive agenda was eventually passed under a new Democratic majority and FDR’s New Deal shortly after, but only because of critics like John Francis Knott was the American public informed enough to move towards reform (Smiley). Although Knott’s cartoon wasn’t enough to prevent the Great Depression, it will forever remain a part of important critical discourse through the Dallas Morning News.
“72nd Congress (1931 – 1933).” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
“fiddle while Rome burns.” Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. 2006. Cambridge University Press. 4 Nov 2015.
Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Knott, John Francis.” Handbook of Texas Online. Demand Media, 15 June 2010. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
“Republican Party Platform of 1928.” The American Presidency Project. Peters, Woolley, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
Smiley, Gene. “Great Depression.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
“The Gold Standard.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
“The Most Famous Poster.” American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.
In the midst of a cold winter, a fast approaching holiday season, a sixteen percent unemployment rate, and the Great Depression; December of 1931 was a troubling time for a lot of people (“Unemployment”). On November 19, 1931 John Knott illustrated to humorously interpret what was occurring at that time in history in Dallas, Texas. The political cartoon accompanied an article published on the same page of the paper titled “A Disposition to Work.” The cartoon depicts Uncle Sam facing a young boy with “Congress” on his shirt, . Knott used the cartoon to educate people about current events and also to poke fun at politics.
On October 24, 1929, Wall Street saw disaster strike. The Stock Market came down, and brought thousands of people’s investments down with it. The initial crash set the course for the next several years, which would be filled with hardship and suffering for citizens all over the country (“The Sock Market”). Within the next year, twelve million people would lose their jobs and fifty million would fall into poverty. It became clear that government action was necessary to relieve these dire circumstances (“The Hungry Years”). It was in the middle of these trying times – accurately coined the “Great Depression”- that Knott worked at the Dallas Morning News illustrating cartoons paired with editorials about the current events of the time.
In 1931 Congress had their work set out for them. As the cartoon illustrates, immense pressure to pass relief efforts was placed on Congress by the citizens of the US. This is depicted by the Uncle Sam figure (the American public) looking at the little boy (Congress).The President at the time, Herbert Hoover, believed that relief efforts should be the responsibility of individuals and the states; however, many people believed the national government should play a role (“Financing”).
In Knott’s cartoon the boy has obviously been chopping wood, and working hard at it. Amongst the chopped wood are the words “moratorium” and “relief measures”, clearly suggesting that these things were also a product of Congress’ work. The moratorium referred to was proposed by Hoover to postpone paying debts for a year to encourage economic growth (Kennedy). By December 1931, the moratorium had gained support and was ready to be debated on the floor, one step closer to being passed (“A Disposition”). The boy asks Uncle Sam, “Is there any more wood you would like me to split, Paw?” Knott clearly believed that Congress had been hard at work for the country and was willing to do even more.
Knott was not alone in his optimistic view of the work Congress had done in the winter of 1931. Accompanying with his political cartoon, a separate editorial titled “A Disposition to Work” was published on page two section two of the Dallas Morning News. The opinion piece defended Congress and explained how the moratorium and relief efforts were important in order to move the country in the direction it wanted to go. At the time, President Hoover believed that the government should not be involved in relief efforts, however the author of editorial makes it clear that Congress was expected ones to lead the effort to relieve poverty, hunger and unemployment, and they had successfully done their job The article took an optimistic view that the members of Congress were willing to fight and work hard to bring relief to their fellow countrymen. It claimed that “patriotism is not dead under the dome of the capitol” (“A Disposition”).
Knott used his illustration to promote humor during the political battle between Hoover and Congress involving relief efforts. The wood acted as a simile for the work done by the legislature; this is made clear by the words strewn about in the logs. As its title suggests, the cartoon was appeared “just before Christmas” when it was cold out. Many people, especially those who were impoverished and without adequate shelter, had to split wood in order to have fire to keep them warm throughout the night. Because Congress would not be in session during the holidays, they needed to get their work done before it was time to go home; and at that time there was a lot of work to be done so that their suffering constituents could make it through those difficult times.. The moratorium and relief efforts were the wood that would keep everyone warm throughout the break. The immense size of the woodpile was Knott’s way of humorously exaggerating how much work Congress had to do, and just how large America’s problems were.
Knott’s ability to take the grim state of the country and turn it into a funny and optimistic cartoon is something truly exceptional. Both the editorial and the cartoon used their media outlet to focus on positives in a time of overwhelming negatives. Knott took serious daily concerns, such as the upcoming holiday and the struggle to stay warm, and highlighted their connection to politics. It is important that individuals stay in touch with current events no matter their social status or situation. Knott made it easier for people to get in touch with what was going on by making it relatable and light hearted. This still rings true today. Many people keep up with current events through comedic outlets. While the Great Depression was inarguably one of the most traumatic times in America’s History, Knott kept his spirits high, and worked to put a smile on the faces of those who needed it most.