How FDR won the 1932 Presidential Election 90 Years Ago: The Brain Trust and the Men who created the New Deal Richard J. Garfunkel November 8, 2022

The 1932 United States presidential election was the 37th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 8, 1932. The election took place against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the worst economic catastrophe since the age of industrialization. It not only affected America, but the whole world. Incumbent President Herbert Hoover, a well-educated man, a graduate of Stanford University, an engineer, a self-made millionaire, and one who was considered a “progressive” among the coterie of Republican conservatives, most embodied by his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge had been elected in a landslide in 1928. Because of his failure regarding the collapse of our economy and social system, he was defeated in the greatest landslide by a Democrat since Andrew Jackson, by Franklin Delano Roosevelt the two term Governor of New York. Roosevelt, who had been re-elected in 1930, by the largest statewide majority of any candidate in history and the vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in 1920 was the odds on favorite to win the nomination by the Democratic Party in 1932. But it was not easy, or guaranteed that he would even be the nominee. As it turned out, Roosevelt became the first Democrat in 80 years to win an outright majority in the popular and electoral votes, the last one being Franklin Pierce in 1852. Hoover was the last incumbent president to lose an election to another term until Gerald Ford, almost 44 years later.

Roosevelt won by a landslide in both the electoral and popular votes, carrying every state outside of the Northeast and receiving the highest percentage of the of the popular vote of any Democratic nominee up to that time. Hoover had won over 58% of the popular vote in the 1928 election, but his share of the popular vote declined to 39.6% in 1932.  Roosevelt’s election ended the era of Republican dominance in presidential politics that lasted from the beginning of the Civil War in 1860 to the middle of the Great Depression in 1932.

But, how did his nomination and election come about? Roosevelt was able to accomplish the feat of winning the nomination in 1932, by over-coming the Two-Third’s Rule that dominated the selection of a nominee in the 1932 Democratic National Convention. That rule stated that a nominee must get two-thirds of the delegates to be nominated. The Republican Party had abandoned that archaic methods years earlier, and the Democrats would jettison it in 1936. Because of the “Rule” the Solid South bloc of conservative states’ rights Democrats could block almost any nominee from the Northeast. Reaching the requisite 704 votes was not easy as he faced not only opposition from favorite son Governors, like Oklahoma’s Alfalfa Bill Murray and Maryland’s Albert Richie, but a loose coalition of opponents for nomination. These included former Governor of New York Al Smith, who was defeated by Hoover in 1928, William Gibbs McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, dark horse Speaker of the House John “Cactus Jack” Garner from Texas, Newton Baker, Wilson’s Secretary of War, and the isolationist publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Also, not to be forgotten, was his wife Eleanor’s opposition to his running for president. She feared being thrust into the confided role as First Lady. There was even talk that she even considered divorce so as to continue to remain in her independent role. FDR was able to manage only 666.25 votes on the first ballot, or 62.4%. In the subsequent next two ballots he would on go from 677.75 to 682.75 votes, or 64%. He was still short of the magic two-thirds until a deal was made to throw Garner’s 101.25 votes to FDR, in exchange that he be nominated as his Vice-{residential running mate. Thus, history was made and with 88% of the delegates, FDR with 945 votes was finally nominated on the 4th ballot.


Roosevelt assembled a very strong team, starting with his long-time advisor, supporter and confidant, Louis McHenry Howe, (1871-1936) a former newspaper man, who abandoned all of his previous pursuits to hitch his “wagon” to FDR’s star in 1910.

Howe, who was from a well-off Indianan family, saw something in the young Roosevelt and from FDR’s first political victory to the New York State Senate in 1910, through FDR’s years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 through 1920, Howe worked for him. Howe would later be responsible for aiding on his physical, mental and political “resurrection” after he was struck down with Polio in 1921. He would remain at his side until his death in 1936. Another critical person who assisted his campaign was Samuel I. Rosenman, a close advisor and speech writer, originally from San Antonio, Texas. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University’s Law School in 1919, where FDR had attended, before he passed the NY State Bar Exam. Rosenman became active in Democratic politics and was a member of the New York State Assembly and later a justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1936 to 1943. By the mid-1930s, Rosenman had emerged as a leading spokesman for the New York Jewish community.

Rosenman was a senior advisor to FDR and later FDR’s Special Counsel (the first official White House Counsel) from 1943 through 1946. He was his longest serving speechwriter, who had helping Roosevelt with his speeches from his days as governor. Rosenman was responsible for the term “New Deal” a phrase in the conclusion of FDR’s acceptance speech at the 1932 Democratic National Convention. While he was not heavily involved in speechwriting during Roosevelt’s first term, he started traveling to Washington to help out with important talks during the 1936 campaign and was a key speech aide for the remainder of Roosevelt’s life. He officially joined the White House after ill health forced him to have to choose between his judicial work and his presidential work.

Roosevelt’s campaign manager, was James A. Farley, the head of the New York State Democratic Party. Farley was commonly referred to as a political kingmaker, as he was responsible for Roosevelt’s rise to the presidency. He was the campaign manager for New York State politician Alfred E. Smith’s 1922 gubernatorial campaign and Roosevelt’s 1928 and 1930 gubernatorial campaigns as well as Roosevelt’s presidential campaigns of 1932 and 1936. Farley predicted large landslides in both, and revolutionized the use of polling data. Farley was responsible for pulling together the New Deal Coalition of Catholics, labor unions, African Americans, and farmers. Farley and the administration’s patronage machine over which he presided helped to fuel the social and infrastructure programs of the New Deal. He handled most mid-level and lower-level appointments, in consultation with state and local Democratic organizations. A close associate of Farley’s was Edward J. Flynn, the Bronx County Democratic Leader. He graduated from Fordham Law School in 1912, was admitted to the bar in June 1913. and practiced in the Bronx He entered politics as a Democrat; and was a member of the New York Assembly from 1918 to 1922. He was chairman of the Executive Committee of the Bronx County Democratic Committee (1922–1953), New York Secretary of State (1929–1939), Democratic national committeeman from New York (1930–1953), and chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1940–1943). He was a close associate of President Roosevelt for many years. Along with James Farley he was the president’s chief advisor of patronage. He helped Roosevelt through all of his elections, but repeatedly refused offers of jobs in the Roosevelt administration.

Even as terrible as was the Hoover Administration, the country was still nominally Republican since 1860, and aside from the conservative administrations of the moderate-conservative Grover Cleveland and the reformer Woodrow Wilson, the Democrats were a bifurcated, loose-coalition of regional interests, from the Deep South States of the former Confederacy to the anti-Washington Westerners, and the city-machine politics of the urban centers. There was little in common than bound these disparate groups together, except opposition to Wall Street, the banks and the power of the railroads.


Roosevelt faced editorial criticism from many of the newspaper alliances, and no one, among these commentators was more critical than the esteemed Walter Lippman, (1889-1974, Harvard University) the country’s leading journalist. With FDR’s caution on locking himself into any set positions, Lippman wrote, that Roosevelt belonged to, “the new postwar school of politicians who do not believe in stating their views unless and until there is no avoiding it…Where, for example, does he stand on the tariff, on reparations, and debts, on farm relief, on taxation, on banking reform, on the railroad perceived problem?” Lippman asserted that his policies were to gather delegates first, and adopt policies later. Lippman’s oft-quoted and most famous remark on the subject of FDR’s candidacy, was “an amiable man with many philanthropic impulses, but…not the dangerous enemy of anything. He is too eager to please!” He later added, Roosevelt, “is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege/ He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president. Ironically, Lippman was wrong on all accounts. In fact, regarding almost every president in our history, he had more qualifications: serving in the state legislature of New York, basically the Secretary of the Navy, in all but name, during the Great War (WW I), running for Vice-President twelve years earlier and a most popular and effective two-term Governor of New York, the largest and most powerful state in the union. Lippman, a great journalist would be hardly remembered for anything, aside from those words.

As for the campaign itself FDR put together a coalition of top notch advisers, later termed first the “Brains Trust,” and later known as the “Brain Trust.” His group started with Judge Rosenman and then his law partner, the talented Basil O’Connor. O’Connor did his undergraduate work at Dartmouth College and graduated from the Harvard Law School. He was then was admitted to the bar to practice law in 1915. For one year he worked in New York for the law firm of Cravath & Henderson, and for the next three years for Streeter & Holmes in Boston. In 1919 he founded his own law firm in New York.

In 1920 O’Connor met FDR, who was running for Vice President on the Democratic ticket. O’Connor became his legal advisor. In 1922, they met almost by accident in the lobby of the building of FDR’s company, Fidelity and Deposit Company. FDR slipped on the marble floor and no one attempted to assist him, but the young lawyer, Basil O’Connor. The two men became associated in their own law firm in 1924, which existed until Roosevelt’s first Presidential inauguration in 1933. These two would form the nucleus of “Brains Trust,” (named by a NY Times journalist) with its famous members, three Columbia professors: Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell and Adolph Berle Jr.

Moley was a graduate of Oberlin College and had earned a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1918. He would later teach at Barnard College, and after five years joined Columbia University’s Law School faculty. Moley recruited Rexford Tugwell, who had advance degrees in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Columbia University. He joined the Columbia faculty in 1920 after teaching at Pennsylvania and the University of Washington. He was an advocate of planning, especially in agriculture, which had been devastated by overproduction and sharply reduced farm income. The most brilliant of this triumvirate was the youngest at 37, Adolph Berle Jr., a child prodigy who entered Harvard College at age fourteen and then attended the Harvard Law School. He served in the Great War, as did Rosenman. Later he started to teach at the Harvard Business School and was critical of the structure of American corporations. After a grant from the newly established Social Science Research Council and an appointment as a professor at the Columbia Law School, he had the time to work on his famous book, The Modern Corporation and Private Property, which he published with Gardner Means in 1932, a Harvard Ph. D in economics.


These individuals would meet and put together their thoughts on agriculture, banking, the markets, regulations and institutional reform that would be used by Roosevelt in his campaign and later in his famed 100 Day, where 15 pieces of critical legislation was passed by the new Congress.

As there were different perspectives that emerged from the convention, aside from the nomination and the coming campaign, DNC Chairperson, Jim Farley believed that the most vital moment of the convention was the battle over the platform plank supporting the repeal of Prohibition. That would be a struggle between two solid factions in the Democratic Party, the Southern wing of conservative and Northern urban liberals.

As the convention proceeded, Roosevelt decided to make a dramatic move and break the back of the archaic and almost moronic custom that the candidate not address the convention, nor even be aware of its decision. Therefore, against the advice of almost everyone, he took an arduous and very dangerous eight hour flight from New York to Chicago to address the delegates. The flight was held up by headwinds, bad weather along with many landings for fuel.

Before he reached the long-delayed convention, he was handed in the car a completely different speech written by Louis Howe. In fact, during the long 8 hour trip from New York to Chicago, there were many drafts of his acceptance speech. Roosevelt was a caught in a bind. How could he abandon his carefully crafted speech for one he had not even read? Of course, he cleverly took the first page of the Howe version, substituted for the first page of the final draft. Basically he delivered the speech he and worked on and approved.

Finally at the convection, he was assisted to the lectern and settled in as he calmed the excited delegates. In his dramatic speech to the convention on July 2nd, he first of all apologized for arriving late, as he underscored the peril he faced in the journey, which had many takeoffs and landings. Roosevelt declared, “I pledge you, I pledge myself to a new deal for the American People. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves as prophets of a new order,” Mindful of the country’s long history of religious fervor, he envisioned the campaign as a “crusade to restore America to its own people. The speech was approved with thunderous applause. Neither FDR nor his close associate and speechwriter, Sam Rosenman, who had drafted the speech could imagine the impact which the words, “new deal” would have. No one could have imagined then that these two words would eventually become the eternal name for what Roosevelt would promote and achieve in his first eight years.

After his nomination FDR told NY Times reporter Anne O’Hare McCormick that the nation someone in the White House who could understand and treat the country a whole entity, not region by region.

In the wake of the convention, there were a number of delegates, who in the words of journalist and social critic, HL Mencken, considered Roosevelt, as “one of the most charming man, but like many another charming man, he leaves the beholder the impression that he is also shallow and futile.” Mencken felt that Roosevelt would sacrifice principles for political harmony. After the convention, Chicago bookies were posting 5 to 1 odds that Hoover would win.

Mencken, a curmudgeon, an expert on the English language and a bigot, known as “The Sage of Baltimore,” supported Roosevelt in the early days of his administration, but grew to hate him and became one of his greatest critics. Roosevelt never took the bait, but almost 2.5 years later, at the Gridiron Dinner, where Mencken was host, in December of 1934, held for newspapermen from all over the country, who covered the administration, where Mencken was host, Roosevelt destroyed him by quoting his own words in his closing remarks.


Shortly after the acceptance speech, the Brain Trust established their own headquarters at the Roosevelt Hotel, as the national campaign was located at the Biltmore. Here at the Roosevelt, Moley continued to act chairman and supervised their activities.

They would stay together through campaign. The group probably got its name from Howe, who mockingly referred to this group, when talking to FDR, as “your brain’s trust!” Some newspaper men picked up on it and the “s” was dropped. The term Brain Trust continued to be applied to all of FDR’s intimate group of advisors long after the original group was disbanded. (Moley and Berle would eventually be appointed Assistant Secretaries of State and Tugwell was appointed an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. Rosenman returned to his work as a NY York State Judge.)

FDR was advised to stay at home, make a few radio broadcasts and some addresses at selected locations. After the convention, in late July, the issue of the army’s destruction of the “Bonus Army” caught the attention of all of America. Thousands of veterans had squatted in some abandoned buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue and in the Anacostia Flats, where a tent city had been erected by them as they demanded a WWI bonus authorized by Congress in 1924. They were cleared by the Chief of Staff of the US Army, medal-bedecked General Douglas MacArthur along with his chief aides, Majors Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton. This action and its resulting tumult gave a greater urgency to winning the White House for Roosevelt. With less than one-third of the voters being registered Democrats, Roosevelt knew he had to take action. He also knew that he had a problem with the ongoing scandal revolving around NYC’s mayor Jimmy Walker. He had to decide to either remove him or stall his actions to after the election. Either way, he would alienate someone. But, on September 1, 1932 before Labor Day and the official start of the active campaign, Walker resigned and left for Europe. With that issue resolved Roosevelt began his post Labor Day cross-country tour of cities in the Midwest and West. In eight arduous weeks from Boston to California, he traveled more than 13,000 miles, mostly by train, and gave twenty-five speeches. He knew the criticality of speaking to the local populace about issues they were most concerned about. For example, in Topeka Kansas, he addressed the problem of agriculture and the plight of the farm. He talked of Republican leaders as the Four Horseman of Destruction, Delay, deceit and Despair.

In 1932, FDR was aware that the country needed a plan that would bring “relief, recovery, and reform” to the nation. He wasn’t sure of the dynamics of such a course of action so he deferred offering an outline to his actions for fear it would alienate legislators and create immediate opposition. He felt that he needed to raise the hope of the public, who were unhappy and disillusioned with the dour Hoover.

The brilliant Ed Flynn, (1891-1953, graduate of Fordham Law School) the Democratic Leader of Bronx County, suggested to Louis Howe, the president’s close confidante that they jettison “Anchors Away” as the campaign tune for “Happy Days are Here Again,” which was from the finale of the 1930 movie, “Chasing Rainbows.”

Hoover criticized him for opportunism and straddling of the issues, with generalities. He claimed that his contradictory appeals were contrived to win votes, not end the Depression. With that in mind, Hoover called the Democrats, “the party of the mob!” How different was this from the campaign of 1884 where days before the election, Republican James Blaine visited the crucial swing state of New York, attending a morning meeting in a New York City hotel. During a speech made by Presbyterian minister Samuel Burchard, the Democratic Party was assailed as the party of “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” In many ways, this phrase singled out Irish Catholics, many of whom lived in the large urban centers like New York and Boston. The phrase catered to the stereotype of the drunken Irishman and demeaned the Catholic faith. Most all Irish were Roman Catholic.


Of course, FDR was quite circumspective and often commentators felt they could not discern Hoover’s words from Roosevelt’s, or the converse. Hoover incredibly believed that Roosevelt’s radicalism would alienate the business community and lead to his defeat. The journalist Elmer Davis (who later worked for FDR as the Director of War Information during WWII) followed closely the Roosevelt campaign.

He reported that there were few Roosevelt statements that could indicate future policies of his coming administration. He like many others were not able to read Roosevelt’s mind. He wrote, “You could not quarrel with a single one of his generalities!” But he added, “What they mean, if anything, is known only to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his God.” In a sense, Davis’s remarks foreshadowed much of the thoughts that many of FDR’s associates and colleagues had about him until the day he died. At one time or another, he was labeled the Sphinx.

As the campaigned moved close to November, Hoover realized that the attacks on Roosevelt as an unprincipled chameleon was not enough to defeat him. Thus, in the final days of the campaign he replaced his plan of giving only a few selected speeches, with a crowded schedule of personal attacks with uncharacteristic stridency. The crowd’s reaction to him was filled with vituperation, hisses, boos, and threats of violence, a reflection of his unpopularity. He denounced Roosevelt and the Democrats as zealots under the same spell of the philosophy of a government which poisoned all of Europe – “the fumes of a witch’s cauldron which boiled in Russia. Roosevelt’s proposed “new deal” would destroy the very foundation od\f our American system!”

As long as he and the Republicans remained in Washington, they would know “how to deal with the mob.” This evoked memories of his actions against the helpless Bonus Army. Exhausted by his last effort and public’s adverse reaction to his campaign’s bleating, he seemed near a nervous breakdown.

On Election Day, November 8th, 90 years ago, FDR won in a landslide. Someone sent Hoover a telegram that read, “Vote for Roosevelt and make it unanimous!” FDR won 42 of the 48 states, winning 472 Electoral votes to Hoover’s 59. It was a complete reversal from Hoover’s victory over Al Smith in 1928.


Members of the Brain Trust:

Basil O’Connor 1892-1972, Law partner of FDR.  On January 2, 1958 the National Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary at Warm Springs, Georgia and Basil O’Connor was honored by having his bust inducted into the Polio Hall of Fame next to FDR and fifteen polio scientists from two centuries. Received his Law Degree from Harvard University. He refused to be appointed to a government position and remained a practicing attorney his whole career.

Samuel I. Rosenman-1896-1973- Rosenman was a senior advisor to presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Under their administrations, he was a leading figure in the war crimes issue. He was also the first official White House Counsel, then called Special Counsel, between 1943 and 1946. Rosenman edited The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, published in 13 volumes from 1938 to 1950. Author of Working with Roosevelt (1952). Received his Law Degree from Columbia University. Served as a Justice of the NY State Supreme Court. His granddaughter is the wife of Attorney-General Merritt Garland.

Raymond Moley 1886-1975, Moley supported then-New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt, and it was Moley who recruited fellow Columbia professors to form the original “Brain Trust” to advise Roosevelt during his presidential campaign of 1932. Despite ridicule from editorial and political cartoonists, the “Brain Trust” went to Washington and became powerful figures in Roosevelt’s New Deal, with Moley writing important speeches for the president. For example, he wrote the majority of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. He was an Assistant Secretary of State. He was also a trenchant critic of fascism, as his participation in a March 1934 mock-trial event in New York City condemning Nazi Germany, titled “The Case of Civilization against Hitler,” indicates. It was attended by 20,000 New Yorkers and featured Mayor La GuardiaRabbi WiseGovernor Alfred E. Smith. Served as an Assistant Secretary of State. Received his PhD from Columbia University. Author of After Seven Years -1939, The First New Deal, 1966

Rexford Tugwell-1891-1979, n 1932 Tugwell was invited to join President Franklin Roosevelt‘s team of advisers known as the Brain Trust. After Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933, Tugwell was appointed first as Assistant Secretary and then in 1934 as Undersecretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. He helped create the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and served as its director. He served as Governor of Puerto Rico. The Democratic Roosevelt: A Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1957.The Art of Politics, As Practiced by Three Great Americans: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Luis Munoz Marin, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958. FDR: An Architect of an Era, Macmillan, 1967.The Brains Trust, Viking Press, 1968. (among his many books and articles)

Adolph A. Berle– 1891-1979, Berle was an original member of Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s “Brain Trust“, a group of advisers who developed policy recommendations. Berle’s focuses ranging from economic recovery to diplomatic strategy during Roosevelt’s 1932 election campaign. Roosevelt’s “Commonwealth Club Address“, a speech written by Berle on government involvement in industrial and economic policy, was ranked in 2000 as the second-best presidential campaign speech of the 20th century by public address scholars. While remaining an informal adviser of Roosevelt after the election, Berle returned to New York City and became a key consultant in the successful mayoral election campaign of reformer Fiorello LaGuardia. From 1934 to 1938, Berle managed the city’s fiscal affairs as its last Chamberlain. He was an Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, and a graduate of the Harvard Law School.

FDR tackles HL Mencken for a loss at the 1934 Gridiron Dinner!

Upon FDR’s return to the District from his Thanksgiving holiday at his Warm Springs retreat, known as “The Little White House,” he was to be the featured guest at the Gridiron Dinner, which was hosted by the press corps which covered the White House and all the action that abounded within the political scope of the Congress.

FDR understood that the host of this annual event was HL Mencken, whose diaries later revealed his dark side. When the diaries were made public, his racism and anti-Semitism, not to mention his deep anti-democratic sentiments came to the surface. Innately he had little concern for people and for sure almost no compassion for the needy. But most of this was certainly hinted about in his lifetime. Mencken relished his reputation and his friends and apologists, thought of him as an eccentric contrarian, but in truth he was basically a chronic, dissatisfied complainer. But, all in all, he was more venal and self-absorbed, and his vehemence showed more and more to FDR as his initial support for the president quickly waned.

At the December, 1934 event, the sponsors seemed to be inspiring mischief and therefore were looking for “blood in the water,” Mencken was well known for venting his spleen and he was expected to reveal his true venom as the Roast Master. Maybe it was because of the President’s presence at the event, that the so-called “Sage of Baltimore” was a bit more cautious and reserved or possibly it was because FDR represented the “home team” and would speak last. Mencken opened with welcoming, “fellow subjects of the Reich,” and he said, “Every day in this great country is April Fool’s Day,” He started out relating his support for the President, but quickly launched into a diatribe about him being a “slippery posturer.”

When FDR’s turn came to speak, he opened with what Mencken called his “Christian Science smile,” and referred to “my old friend Henry Mencken, “ and then in a room filled with the members of each level of the press, he began a rancorous denunciation against their whole profession. He attacked the “stupidity, cowardice and Philistinism of the working newspapermen.” FDR continued with a look of piety only that he could do, and to the laughter of almost all who were there, he claimed that those assembled did not know what a “symphony is or a streptococcus” and then described their industry as “pathetically feeble and vulgar, and so disreputable.” Of course, the audience became quite frosty and strangely silenced. But his words eventually became crystal clear to many of the old-timers. FDR had taken it all from an editorial called “Journalism in America,” written by Mencken himself, ten years before in his own publication, The American Mercury. Eventually FDR, with a large smile finally revealed to all the true source of such venom.

Mencken, incredibly embarrassed, boiled over and said, “I’ll get the son of a bitch. I’ll dig the skeletons out of his closet.” As he was fulminating and trying get out a retort, FDR moved passed him at the conclusion of his response, as the audience reverberated with laughter when the true author was revealed. FDR had turned the tables on Mencken, got in the last word, and as Harold Ickes would write later, “FDR had smeared Mencken all over.”

Apropos – FDR stated: “Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”

New Deal Spending

We are awash in idiocy in this country amongst the people who on one hand blame the elitists on Wall Street, but have all their money tied up in 401ks. IRA’s , 503bs and every other type of invest vehicle, but do not want transparency and regulation and cry when criminals and brigands steal their savings. But we hear from these same right-wing philosophers about the spending of government and the debt, but conveniently forget that Reagan tripled out National Debt, unemployment averaged almost 8% (was over 10% for two years) in his time cut taxes for the 1% and that his clones the Bush twins did worse.

As for FDR and the New Deal, expenditures on WPA projects through June 1941, totaled approximately $11.4 billion. Over $4 billion was spent on highway, road, and street projects; more than $1 billion on public buildings, including the iconic Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mt. Hood; more than $1 billion on publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion on welfare projects, including sewing projects for women, the distribution of surplus commodities and school lunch projects. One construction project was the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the bridges of which were each designed as architecturally unique. In its eight year run, the WPA built 325 firehouses and renovated 2384 of them across the United States. The 20,000 miles of water mains, installed by their hand as well, no doubt aided in a more fire protected country.

The direct focus of the WPA projects changed with need. 1935 saw projects aimed at infrastructure improvement; roads, bringing electricity to rural areas, water conservation, and sanitation and flood control. In 1936, as outlined in that year’s Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, public facilities became a focus; parks, buildings, utilities, airports, and transportation projects were funded. The following year, saw the introduction of agricultural pursuits in projects such as the production of marl fertilizer and the eradication of fungus pests. As the Second World War approached, and then eventually began, WPA projects became increasingly defense related.

The PWA spent over $6 billion in contracts to private construction forms that did the actual work. It created an infrastructure that generated national and local pride in the 1930s and remains vital seven decades later. The PWA was much less controversial than its rival agency with a confusingly similar name, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), headed by Harry Hopkins, which focused on smaller projects and hired unemployed unskilled workers.

More than any other New Deal program, the PWA epitomized the progressive notion of “priming the pump” to encourage economic recovery. Between July 1933 and March 1939 the PWA funded and administered the construction of more than 34,000 projects including airports, large electricity-generating dams, and major warships for the Navy, and bridges, as well as 70% of the new schools and one-third of the hospitals built between 1933–1939.

Streets and highways were the most common PWA projects, as 11,428 road projects, or 33% of all PWA projects, accounted for over 15% of its total budget. School buildings, 7,488 in all, came in second at 14% of spending. PWA functioned chiefly by making allotments to the various Federal agencies; making loans and grants to state and other public bodies; and making loans without grants (for a brief time) to the railroads. For example it provided funds for the Indian Division of the CCC to build roads, bridges and other public works on and near Indian reservations.

The PWA became, with its multiplier-effect and first two-year budget of $3.3 billion (compared to the entire GDP of $60 billion), the driving force of America’s biggest construction effort up to that date. By June 1934 the agency had distributed its entire fund to 13,266 federal projects and 2,407 non-federal projects. For every worker on a PWA project, almost two additional workers were employed indirectly. The PWA accomplished the electrification of rural America, the building of canals, tunnels, bridges, highways, streets, sewage systems, and housing areas, as well as hospitals, schools, and universities; every year it consumed roughly half of the concrete and a third of the steel of the entire nation.

Some of the most famous PWA projects are the Triborough Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, the longest continuous sidewalk in the world along 6½ miles of Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa, Florida, and the Overseas Highway connecting Key West, Florida, to the mainland. The PWA also electrified the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington, DC. At the local level it built courthouses, schools, hospitals and other public facilities that remain in use in the 21st century

Post Script: Four Years Later!

On January 6th, when the Supreme Court ruled six to three that the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act) was unconstitutional, because it exceeded its taxing authority to transfer money from one group to another beyond what the Constitution allowed, it seemed to confirm Roosevelt’s fear about the collapse of the New Deal. (Not to long ago, in the previous administration, the then incumbent transferred huge amounts of money from the Defense Department to add to his phony, porous and kickback-laden, and incredibly expensive border wall, the cost, upwards of $42 million per mile.)


Conservatives were overjoyed at the prospect of the program’s demise. “Constitutionalism” had triumphed over “Hitlerism,” the Chicago Tribune declared, while the Philadelphia Inquirer called the decision the reemergence of “plain old fashioned Americanism.”  (For whatever that meant!) James McReynolds, the most conservative Justice on the Court, said gleefully, “the New Deal is on the rocks!” Arthur Krock, the columnist for The NY Times saw the ruling as “so broad that few New Deal acts (laws) before the Court now seemed to have any chance of being upheld.” Conservative columnist Mark Sullivan (who FDR called an idiot), believed that the New Deal was “to America what the early phase of Nazism was to Germany” and predicted that unless Roosevelt and his reach for power were reined in, 1936 could mark the country’s last election. The Republican Nation Convention echoed his warning and unless Roosevelt was ousted in 1936, America would become “a socialist state honey-combed with waste and extravagance and ruled by a dictator that mocks the rights of the States and the liberty of the citizen.”

Liberals in Iowa, whom the conservatives press called “Bolshevistic hoodlums,” reacted to the Court’s decision by burning cardboard images of the six justices who had voted on the ruling. The dissenting jurists, led by Harlan Fiske Stone, slammed the majority as out of control and usurping presidential and congressional power. Others complained that a politicized Court was operating as a “judicial dictatorship.” The Dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School wondered whether the government had the capacity to even govern. He noted, that “our national problems appear to have outrun our constitutional capacity to deal with them.”

Of course, there would be much more of the same and eventually the fate of the New Deal would be in the hands of another Justice Roberts, this time Owen, over the fate of Social Security.

Thus, with all that in mind, how much has changed with the Republican Party of its tactics of obstructionism, original intent, and state’s rights?

  1. In 1937 The Court upheld the Social Security Act with Justice Owen Roberts one of the 7 to 2 votes. On the Hughes Court, Roberts was a swing vote positioned between the conservative Four Horsemenand the liberal Three Musketeers. Along with Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Roberts’s vote often decided whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal legislation would be upheld. His decision to uphold the constitutionality of a state minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish has been called “the switch in time that saved nine.” That term references the decision’s possible role in the defeat of the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, which would have expanded the Supreme Court and thus allowed Roosevelt to appoint Justices more sympathetic to his policies. Roberts’s motivation for upholding the constitutionality of the New Deal and his role in the defeat of the bill remains a matter of debate.


  1. The Chicago Tribune– Under the 20th-century editorship of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, who took control in the 1920s, the paper was strongly isolationistand aligned with the Old Right in its coverage of political news and social trends. It used the motto “The American Paper for Americans”. From the 1930s to the 1950s, it excoriated the Democrats and the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was resolutely disdainful of the British and French, and greatly enthusiastic for Chiang Kai-shek and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It revealed the United States war plans on the eve of the Pearl Harbor The Tribune‘s June 7, 1942, front page announcement that the United States had broken Japan’s naval code was the revelation by the paper of a closely guarded military secret. The story revealing that Americans broke the enemy naval codes was not cleared by censors, and had U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt so enraged that he considered shutting down the Tribune. By fortune or just plain luck the Japanese never picked up on the story! The Tribune was famous for its headline- The early returns led editors to believe “Dewey Defeats Truman“, turning the paper into a collector’s item. Democrat Harry S. Truman won and proudly brandished the newspaper in a famous picture taken at St. Louis Union Station. Beneath the headline was a false article, written by Arthur Sears Henning, which purported to describe West Coast results although written before East Coast election returns were available.
  2. The Philadelphia Inquirer was sold to Moses L. Annenbergin 1936. During the Depression, The Inquirer stagnated, its editors ignoring most of the poor economic news of the Depression. The lack of growth allowed  David Stern‘s newspaper, The Philadelphia Record, to surpass The Inquirer in circulation and become the largest newspaper in Pennsylvania. Under Moses Annenberg after 1936, The Inquirer turned around. Annenberg added new features, increased staff and held promotions to increase circulation. In 1939, Annenberg was charged with income tax evasion. Annenberg pleaded guilty before his trial and was sentenced to three years in prison. While incarcerated he fell ill and died from a brain tumor six weeks after his release from prison in June 1942
  3. Mark Sullivan- Sullivan was a reporter for decades (1924-1952) on the NY Herald, later the Herald-Tribune. He said in 1935, that he was a liberal (“Teddy Rooseveltwas my only political god”) and that consistent with liberalism he sought to “take power away from the state” By 1935 his view of Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal was “frankly apocalyptic”  In 1937, after the Social Security Act was signed into law, he made his secretary of 17 years, Mabel Shea, famous by asking why she should be forced to pay 35 cents social security out of her weekly paycheck of $35 (equivalent to $1017.88 in 2021). This led Time magazine to publish that Sullivan had an annual income of $23,417 (over $408,000 in 2018). During a press briefing, Roosevelt said Sullivan was arguing that Shea had the “absolute freedom, as an American citizen, to starve to death when she got to be sixty-five if she wanted to”. He suggested that Sullivan raise her salary.
  4. Arthur Krock-He was a columnist for the NY Times, who was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes. Despite his stature, according to historian David Nasaw, from the earliest days of their friendship in Washington beginning in the mid-1930s, Krock became so staunch an advocate of Joseph P. Kennedyand his ambitions that he seemed to be all but in the pocket of the powerful millionaire (with one son who would later be U.S. president and two others who would contend for that office). Citing the correspondence between the two men in his authorized, yet highly researched and critically acclaimed 2012 biography of Joe Kennedy, Professor Nasaw chronicles how it “reveals something quite disturbing, if not corrupt, about Krock’s willingness to do Kennedy’s bidding, to advise him or write a speech for him, then praise it in his column. It is said that he wrote JFK’s senior thesis at Harvard, Why England Slept, a play on Churchill’s While England Slept. There is no proof of that! After it was published in 1940, the book sold 80,000 copies in the United Kingdom and the United States and collected $40,000 in royalties for Kennedy. Income from the British sales were donated to Plymouth, a British city that had recently been bombed by the Luftwaffe. Kennedy bought a Buick convertible with the income from the book’s North American Joseph Kennedy had initially approached Harold Laski to write the book’s foreword, but Laski declined since he felt that it was “the book of an immature mind; that if it hadn’t been written by the son of a very rich man, he wouldn’t have found a publisher.”
  5. The Roosevelt Court-Following the constitutional crisis of 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had made no appointments to the Supreme Court in his first term, eventually named eight men to the bench between 1937 and 1943: Hugo L. Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy, James F. Byrnes, Robert H. Jackson, and Wiley B. Rutledge as associate justices, and he elevated Harlan Fiske stone to be chief justice—more appointments than any President other than George Washington. It was assumed that Roosevelt’s appointees would share his philosophy of government and would interpret the Constitution broadly to give the President and Congress adequate power to meet the nation’s needs. In this the President and his followers were not disappointed. The so-called Roosevelt Court took a very liberal approach in its interpretation of the commerce power, giving near carte blancheto the federal government in any matters affecting business and labor. Perhaps the best example of the Roosevelt Court’s broad view of the commerce power is its sustaining part of the Second Agricultural Administration Act (1938). In his Court opinion upholding the wheat quota provisions of the law in Wickard v. Filburn (1942), Jackson abandoned the old distinction between production (essentially a local activity) and commerce, and gave the federal government the power to regulate even the wheat grown on a farm for the farmer’s own use.


  1. The Election of 1936- Franklin D. Roosevelt of NY vs. Alf Landon of Kansas- the results: FDR 27,747,636 to 16,679,543- 60.8% to 36.5%= Electoral College 523-8.





















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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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