º Roosevelt Assignment Page
º Modern Presidents from FDR to the Present
º Prof. Renka's Franklin D. Roosevelt links
º Miller Center Biography - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Life in Brief
Roosevelt's Expansion of the Presidency
Russell D. Renka
4 February 2010
° Halcyon Days
° Expanding the Domestic Presidency
° The Conservative Coalition
° Isolationism and War
° Wartime Domestic Policy
° The Wartime Administrative Presidency
° Conclusion: FDR and Modernism
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President for 12 years and 39 days in four terms covering an unprecedented economic depression and a world war. The American national governmental system was drastically modernized during this period. One effect was to enhance both the formal and informal powers of the presidency by equipping the institution with new tools. Another was to give it an unprecedented presence in American living rooms as an on-site rhetorical presence. Old informal constraints upon presidential power were challenged and disregarded. The office that Harry S. Truman inherited upon FDR's death on 12 April 1945 was vastly different than the one Roosevelt assumed from Hoover on 4 March 1933.
This paper traces FDR from his reelection in 1936 through his death near war's end in 1945. During this time the New Deal was gradually eclipsed by the onset and then the reality of world war. The New Deal political coalition nonetheless matured into an enduring entity, and so did a permanent administrative system to carry that New Deal policy out. A New Deal-opposing conservative coalition also arose, consisting of Republicans who survived the 1936 election or won office in 1938 and 1940, and some uncontested Southern Democrats who dominated the conservative wing of the Democratic majority. By 1939 it effectively throttled FDR's additional plans for having Congress transform the American welfare state. But World War II made for a different reality.
This was also the period that permanently ended American isolation from European and world affairs. In the 1930s Congress and the country were predominantly determined to protect American isolation and stay out of war in Europe. Roosevelt nonetheless tried to ally with France and Great Britain against Hitler and Mussolini's regime. Hitler himself, and the military regime in Japan, demolished that coalition and took the U.S. into two wars at once. The U.S. emerged as a world power with nuclear weapons, a robust economy, and a permanent economic and military presence in Europe and Asia. All the while the presidential office was transformed administratively to bear the responsibilities attending such a nation.
I. Halcyon Days Next down; Top
Roosevelt in the First and Second New Deals of 1933 to 1936 relied heavily upon a Congress dominated by young New Deal Democrats. President and Congress are "tandem institutions" which govern together (Peterson 1990). Today this usually means crossing party lines between White House and Congress, but FDR enjoyed a first term with reliable party majorities and--for more than two years--no well-formed opposition (Patterson 1967, chs. 1-3; Renka, Presidents and Congress). It was more than numbers backing Roosevelt. Congressional New Dealers with progressive backgrounds enjoyed a heyday. Senator George W. Norris, the nonpartisan progressive from Nebraska, pioneered the 1933 Tennessee Valley Authority and the 1935 regulation of electrical and gas utilities (TVA Clash of the Titans; NebraskaStudies.Org - George W. Norris; Norris, George William - Biographical Information). In 1935, both the National Labor Relations Act or "Wagner Act" with Section 7(a) right-to-bargain for organized labor, and the Social Security Act, were brainchildren more of New York's reformist Senator Robert Wagner than of President Roosevelt or his ad hoc staff support (Senator Robert_F._Wagner; Our Documents - Social Security Act (1935); Social Security Online - History; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library Documents - NLRA; Our Documents - National Labor Relations Act (1935)). Conservative opponents were temporarily disabled by the shock of depression, grievous electoral losses, and the temporary disrepute of defenses based on traditional American spurning of centralized power.
But in the American two-party system, the lack of an effective opposition cannot long endure. Political coalitions do not include everyone. This section demonstrates the rise of that opposition as a cross-party legislative coalition as a byproduct of Roosevelt's own formation of New Deal policy. It even achieved stunning successes in the very Congress weighted most heavily with Democrats, the 75th_United_States_Congress of 1937-38. By 1938 it ended the New Deal's dominance in Congress, yet Roosevelt would preside for six more years and part of a seventh. So how does a modern president govern when Congress is under de facto opposition control? It turns out that modern presidents can do a lot without congressional assent. President Roosevelt expanded the administrative powers of his office, creating the first truly institutionalized executive office in American history (Ragsdale and Theis 1992). That expansion effort, spurred partly by wartime conditions, was ultimately successful and enduring.
That move was not necessary in 1936, an unadorned New Deal triumph (United States presidential election, 1936; Dave Leip's Atlas, 1936; Renka, Presidential Elections through 2008). It is remarkable by American standards, and not simply for the Roosevelt landslide over Republican nominee Alf Landon of Kansas. FDR's 60.8% national popular vote share and winning 46 of 48 states are not far from earlier sweeps in 1920 and 1924 or later ones in 1956, 1964, 1972 and 1984. Instead it is the nadir of a major political party that stands out. In the 75th Congress of 1937-38 the Republicans won just 88 of 435 congressional seats and 17 of 96 Senate posts (United States House of Representatives elections, 1936; United States Senate elections, 1936; Renka, Presidents and Congresses). No election before or since the civil war-era establishment of an American two-party system has been so one-sided. Liberalism had won, or so it appeared.
Election of this 75th Congress confirmed the maturation of a new political coalition incorporating the onetime independent and Republican elements of progressivism. Unlike Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt sought to build a policy coalition based on liberalism, not a party coalition based on the existing party. Roosevelt was not fastidious about where New Deal allies arose, and was quite ready to ally with non-Democrats who backed his programs. He avoided criticizing Republican progressives in 1933-34, he welcomed their successes and initiatives in his first term, and he even saw to their shares of political patronage (Milkis 1993, 47, 53-58). He had in mind an expanded, new "party" of New Dealers. It paid rich early dividends. In 1936, no fewer than 4 Senate and 13 House seats went to Farmer-Labor or Progressive party candidates in Minnesota and Wisconsin (75th United States Congress - Party Summary - Wikipedia; one senator is listed as a Democrat). These districts had gone almost solidly Republican in the 1920s (Martis 1989, 174-183), but by 1936 were all allied closely with the New Deal (Martis 1989, 190-191). Those progressives together with Democrats won a stunning 60% of the 1936 national popular vote for congressional candidates (Barone 1990, 105). That historically one-sided outcome was augmented mightily by the one-party South going 85% Democratic and conferring 99 of its 101 Old Confederacy congressional seats to that party. The victorious Democratic Party seemed the private property of FDR and the New Dealers.
Theodore Roosevelt had spoken of the president as steward of all the American people. The New Deal coalition's November 1936 zenith affirmed an historic American link of vigorous presidents with expanded electorates and emergent political forces. In 1936 total voting turnout rose more than 15 percent, from 40 million to 46 million (Leip, 1932 and 1936). Many were labor-spurred voting newcomers, some of them urban blacks recent of the mass exodus from southern sharecropping and disenfranchisement. The Second New Deal of 1935-36 had been openly pro-labor, pro-public utilities, ever suspicious of Wall Street financial manipulators, and prepared to directly employ men who otherwise lacked employment via the Works Progress Administration (NPR, Works Progress Administration). It was a rare time in America when authentic left-wing sentiments about the Great Depression flowered in poems and art (A Depression Art Gallery from Cary Nelson, The Great Depression; Adams and Goldbard 1995, New Deal Cultural Programs). Much of it had WPA sponsorship and support (New Deal Cultural Programs). Some of that feeling channeled itself into American electoral politics in 1936.
The election displayed an economic class division of American parties that did not exist before. In organizational resources, labor rose to new heights, more than offsetting the erosion and loss of big business financial support in 1936. Power shifted inside the Democratic Party, too. The two-thirds rule of the Democratic nominating convention, by which Southerners had given up realistic chances at presidential nomination but kept a veto on all others, was abolished after 104 years' duration (Milkis 1993, 69-71). This had produced a disastrous locked Convention with 103 ballots in 1924 producing the conservative presidential nominee John Davis who ultimately won less than 30 percent of the nation's popular vote (Carlson 2008, The Ballot Brawl of 1924 - washingtonpost.com; 'Klanbake' Convention - NationMaster - Encyclopedia; Ranson 1994, 'A Snarling Roughhouse': the Democratic Convention of 1924; Leip, 1924 general election). In 1936, liberals no longer needed this perilous arrangement, had the leadership motive plus delegate control to abolish it, and did so with the President's full backing. Unlike 1932, Roosevelt faced no risk of a nomination veto by conservative southerners or rivals like Al Smith.
My colleague Thomas Harte always insisted that "rhetoric reveals." Roosevelt rhetoric in 1936 revealed belief in a policy and historical mandate. The term "mandate" in political elections refers to the notion that a sweeping election victory confers the open right to promote that policy agenda the victors set forth in the campaign. Rhetoric has rarely been more revealing than in 1936 and 1937. The 1936 presidential nomination acceptance speech was occasion for FDR to declare an American "rendezvous with destiny" (shown by that title in Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum digital archives). That destiny would not contemplate rolling back the New Deal. He also used confrontational rhetoric about "economic royalists." So on reelection and 1937 inauguration FDR said: "These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power." (audio excerpt, Franklin D. Roosevelt Second Inaugural Address, 20 January 1937) That class-conflict rhetoric closely echoed Theodore Roosevelt's 1907 condemnation of "malefactors of great wealth." Political leaders are ultimately known by the enemies they kept.
On 20 January 1937 Roosevelt stood with braces in cold rain on the Capitol's East Rotunda to deliver the famous Second Inaugural Address (text, The Avalon Project: Second Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt; audio excerpt - Presidential Audio-Video Archive - Franklin D. Roosevelt Second Inaugural Address). Although delivered in the same confident, reassuring voice, it could scarcely be more different from the unifying First Inaugural in 1933 that preceded creation of the New Deal (text, Avalon Project - First Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt; audio mp3 at American Rhetoric, Franklin Delano Roosevelt - First Inaugural Address). Roosevelt's most notable 1937 phrase--"I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished"--captured his intention to push that New Deal ahead, even to expand the notion of fundamental rights of human beings to include economic protection.
If that would engender opposition from conservatives in 1937, so be it. If former presidential candidate and Roosevelt ally Al Smith vocally disliked such economic class rhetoric, well, he was history by 1936 anyhow. Similar denunciations from Herbert Hoover were positively welcomed, since those reminded many of depression and the Republican Party's downfall. Roosevelt's choice of words spurned national consensus in favor of a loyalist New Deal majority under FDR's strong leadership (Milkis 1998). Roosevelt and other New Dealers felt they had a national election and policy mandate to go forward with a liberal vision (mandate. The American Heritage® Dictionary). They didn't, but the sweep of 1936 made them think so.
II. Expanding the Domestic Presidency Next down; Top
Mandates are largely mythical in American politics. Elections are far too imprecise to deliver policy recommendations or even general statements about liberalism and conservatism. New Dealers had no mandate beyond staying in office and continuing to help the people and the country. Roosevelt's second term was a brutal return to political realism. Roosevelt was both a pragmatist and an ideological liberal (pragmatism. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001; liberal. The American Heritage® Dictionary). As a pragmatist he accepted a disparate variety of stratagems for restoring American economic health, and in his first term of 1933 to 1937 there was scarcely time or occasion for anything more (Brinkley 1995, p. 6). Thus reformers saw the earliest New Deal as emergency stopgap measures, not blueprints for permanent change in the relationship of government to private corporate capital. But in 1936-37 the immediate crisis was over, the economy was greatly improved relative to 1933, the banks had been restored, the 1935 social insurance program had been enacted to law, and the time was right to think about permanence of a welfare state based on and coincident with private capitalism.
In that second Roosevelt term, reform was to be institutional, aimed especially at the Supreme Court and the political party system. Reformers quickly were overwhelmed by changes in the political and economic landscape. First came a signal legislative failure: in 1937 the President's transparent plan to add six seats to the nine-man Supreme Court was exposed as an obvious attempt to shift decisive power to New Dealers in the one great holdover of conservatives. Roosevelt was deadly serious, as evidenced in his 9 March 1937 Fireside Chat (FDR court-packing plan). He had excellent reason, as he feared that the Court was about to overturn the Social Security Act (Social Security Online - Constitutionality of Social Security Act)). Randall Calvert's syllabus shows 18 Supreme Court decisions on New Deal Programs, 1934-1937. Seven of these 18 resulted in findings of unconstitutionality against New Deal legislation. Concurrently, the Court ruled against the President's latitude to fire a holdover appointee of an independent regulatory commission (Humphrey's Executor v. United States (1935) ; Humphrey's Executor v. United States 295 U.S. 602 (1935)). To say the least, FDR was not pleased by this Court.
Despite FDR's adamant pursuit of this plan, it was soundly repudiated by the 75th Congress (Patterson 1967, Ch. 7; Davis 1993, 38-112; Friedel 1990, 221-239). Political cartoons captured the flagrant hypocrisy of the plan's presidential defense (Cartoons: FDR and the Supreme Court; also February 1937 - The Supreme Court). The general public did not help FDR; newly emergent public opinion polling by Gallup showed larger pluralities against the plan than for it from February 1937 onward (R. Calvert's Pol Sci 3103 - Public Reaction to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Plan to Enlarge the Supreme Court). Leading Southern Democrats in Congress were not forewarned about the plan, and many jumped promptly into active opposition. They had little worry of offending their publics. Roosevelt's own Vice President, John Nance Garner, flatly told him the plan would never fly in the 75th Congress despite its one-sided Democratic majorities; "you're beat" (Lionel V. Patenaude, COURT-PACKING PLAN OF 1937; U.S. Senate Art & History - John Nance Garner). Vice President Garner was proven correct--as in fact, he and fellow Texans helped lead this effort (Texas Democrats and the Court Fight of 1937).
This legislative fiasco is universally seen as FDR's greatest legislative blunder. But worse by far (in my view), almost all the public optimism of 1936 vanished with a deep economic recession starting in mid-1937 and persisting right into the midterm election year of 1938. The November 1938 midterm devastated the ruling New Dealer coalition in Congress and restored the Republican Party to health, especially in the Midwest (Presidents and Congresses - 76th Congress). The high point of New Deal liberalism in 1936 was rapidly followed by a low point.
& Nor was that the lowest point. On 9-10 November 1938 Hitler unleashed the barbaric Kristallnacht ("Night of the Broken Glass") against Jews all across Germany (Kristallnacht - The November 1938 Pogroms). It was preceded by September's devastating Munich Crisis, the result of which convinced FDR personally that Europe would see war and that Hitler's regime would ultimately threaten American national security (Farnham 1997; Radio Days - Munich Crisis; Munich A Fifty Year Retrospective - The Churchill Centre). From that time forward, international questions supplanted the domestic New Deal as the first order of presidential business. Hitler's threat struck directly against the American isolationist belief that European wars would bypass those fortunate to have 3500 miles of Atlantic Ocean separating them from the Old World. Even in November 1938, few could foresee how dated such a belief already was. Americans learned this very slowly and painfully, and it took all of Roosevelt's energy and political skill to steer the nation away from it. Once the 76th Congress elected in November 1938 commenced its First Session in January 1939, FDR would largely set aside the New Deal in favor of mobilization for defense and eventually war.
There is still today an open question of exactly how FDR saw the political future in early 1937. Biographies are divided on the question. His rhetoric shows that Roosevelt was a committed liberal pragmatist who believed central government could be a great engine for progressive betterment of the lives of ordinary Americans. Still, he was always a political realist. As such, he distrusted political parties. The language of programmatic New Deal liberalism never fooled this President into believing the Democratic Party had somehow left behind its history as a jerry-built political coalition of varied factions which unified only long enough to nominate and campaign for one national ticket every fourth calendar year. Quite the contrary, the enlarged 1937 party was a highly diverse "grand coalition" with much more membership than needed to pass programs and govern the nation. The lifespan of such entities in America is brief. This Roosevelt was to see in 1937-38. Did he anticipate this in advance? We do not know for sure, and biographies have not resolved this. But later presidents, Lyndon Johnson in particular, thought Roosevelt believed he had more power and command over New Deal policy than any Congress would permit. So Roosevelt may have only learned this limitation through hard-won experience.
We do know that Roosevelt took his New Deal opponents very seriously. The President promoted structural changes in government to eliminate the chief threats to endurance of the New Deal. Roosevelt’s core second-term domestic policy goal was to elevate the presidency’s political and administrative powers. The two most important issues were curbing the Supreme Court’s willingness to kill New Deal measures, and the executive reorganization of the White House.
Court packing is widely held to be FDR’s most famous and expensive political failure (Shaw et al. 2004). Roosevelt faced a nine-man Supreme Court averaging 71.3 years age in 1937 (with median age being 74). He and the Attorney General concocted a fiction that the Court's expanding case load produced strains on the justices (which was nominally true), so therefore the Congress should create a new Supreme Court seat for each of the six justices over the age of 70. That supposedly helped the Court, and of course Roosevelt would appoint New Dealers to each of those new seats. It was all too clever by half, and no amount of Roosevelt's Fireside Chat defense would rescue it. The question here is what effect this failure had.
The eminent Roosevelt historian William Leuchtenberg (1956, 238-239) said Roosevelt "lost the war. The Court fracas destroyed the unity of the Democratic party and greatly strengthened the bipartisan anti-New-Deal coalition." James Patterson's study of the origins of the conservative coalition likewise identifies this defeat as a tremendous encouragement to them, showing that FDR was not invincible (Patterson 1967, esp. Ch. 7). The legislative rejection of Roosevelt’s 1937 court-packing plan was indeed a serious downturn in the president’s command of Congress. FDR sacrificed much political "capital" from his "bank" of assets to be drawn out for important occasions, by insisting upon this transparent scheme even after he was clearly told the Congress was not persuaded. In my view, he persisted anyway--not because he believed he would win congressional approval in 1937, but for two other reasons. One was his longer term view that public persuasion would ultimately bend Members of Congress to yield. That, however, could not come soon enough to rescue New Deal legislation from possible rejection in the Court's 1937-38 session. So the second reason: FDR meant to signal the Court with absolute clarity that he would not accept their conservative verdicts as legitimate and final. This he hoped would have an immediate effect.
Did the President succeed here? The Court’s behavior did change, courtesy of two among the nine justices switching votes to the New Dealer's interpretation that the 14th Amendment's commerce clause governed both interstate and in-state commerce. No important Second New Deal policy was overturned by the Court during the 1937-38 Court session. Roosevelt had openly signaled his determination to fight those who would overturn 1935 products like the Social Security Act or the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act) conferring labor's right to organize and strike. No one can say with certainty that he scared them away from overturning more New Deal legislation. But in 1937, Associate Justices George Sutherland and Owen Roberts--who had both joined the 1935 “Black Thursday” rulings against National Industrial Recovery Act and Agricultural Adjustment Act--switched to favor the law creating Social Security in 1937 along with others that represent a clear reversal of earlier Court rulings on the commerce clause (NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937) ). In the droll wording at the Social Security history timeline: "May 24, 1937: In three decisions, the Supreme Court validated the unemployment insurance provisions of the Social Security Act and ruled old-age pensions were constitutional, (301 U.S. 495, 548, 619) in Steward Machine Company v. Davis; Helvering v. Davis; and Carmichael v. Southern Coal Company." (Social Security Online - Chronology). Roosevelt lost the battle (court packing) but won the war (retaining and institutionalizing New Deal measures), prompting the mockery that "A switch in time saves nine!" (Carson 2002 - courtpacking; also R. Calvert syllabus - Week 14 -- A switch in time saves nine).
Then actuarial tables kicked in. Five of those nine old men retired within three years thereafter (Leuchtenberg 1956, 239; Davis 1993, 46). Roosevelt selected new justices to permit the New Deal and its liberal activist successor policies. From 1937 until 1995 there were practically no Supreme Court uses of the commerce clause to curb the New Deal or other expansions of central governmental powers over the domestic economy. Interstate commerce was redefined to permit the New Deal, the Great Society and other ambitious central government initiatives.
Roosevelt's fall from legislative heights is still assigned heavily to the court packing failure. The opposition made common cause using the language of limited constitutional government, and won that way (Patterson 1967, ch. 6). Conservatives after that won many another issue as well. But court packing gets too much of the credit or blame for Roosevelt's slippage. The major economic recession late in 1937 did considerably more damage to FDR than any single legislative defeat or reversal (Patterson 1967, ch. 6; Barone 1990, 109-120). Beyond that, there is hindsight on those who voted for FDR in 1936 or were elected to the 75th Congress on his long coattail. America was still closely divided over ideology between traditional belief in local and state-centered power versus the newly elevated liberal activism. The New Deal entered its fifth year, and so did its opposition. The rise of some type of conservative political opposition was inevitable, and keyed less on issues of executive power and prerogative than upon elementary views about race, capitalist labor and management, economic class division, and the future direction of the nation. Court packing or no, FDR in Congress was quickly running out of time and support for retaining the peculiar dominance he enjoyed from 1933 through 1936.
There was also a 1937-38 decline of Roosevelt's popular support. The newly emergent technology of scientific polling to measure a president's standing with the public had begun in earnest in calendar 1937. The Roper Center's Presidential Job Performance - Franklin Roosevelt demonstrates via 14 Gallup polls of presidential approval in 1938 that his low point was early that year, with the single lowest point being 50 percent approval to 42 percent disapproval. That is coincident with the height of the 1938 economic recession.
Roosevelt paid a steep price for court packing. It bore marks of personal arrogance of a commanding political leader. It violated the wise counsel to effect major policy and institutional changes through subtle series of minor steps in one direction. Roosevelt biographer Kenneth S. Davis said "He could afford to wait" (Davis 1993, 46) for retirements, and change the Court without packing it. But that takes a long time. Congressmen and Senators have time, and so do Justices of the Court. Second-term presidents normally do not. So why did Roosevelt attempt transparent moves to grab power over the Court? More important than arrogance is rational political strategy. Consider the political time frame ruled by the traditional election calendar. In 1937 no president had ever served more than two terms. And Roosevelt could not expect in 1937 to win an unprecedented third term in 1940. Any president must consider how brief is the opportunity for effecting major change. If Roosevelt did not take on the anti-New Deal Court majority in 1937, when could it be done? If the Court had overturned Social Security, would another Congress restore it later on? The rule of thumb for all activist presidents has been to act quickly when political openings arise. That is what Roosevelt did.
Executive reorganization was to be another eventual presidential success following early failure. Like court packing, this would require congressional assent. Unlike court packing, Congress did create presidential authority to alter another branch of government. But legislators fresh from the 1937 court packing defeated the President's initial bold plan. FDR' s audacious 1938 attempt to purge conservatives out of the party failed completely, leaving in place many more Republicans and the same Southern Democrats in the 76th Congress (per Presidents and Congresses, 76th Congress). Almost all were suspicious of the President's power seeking.
Professional public administration scholars had no such problem. Their concern was that modern presidents were overwhelmed by the sheer administrative duties of the expanding central government. They also held a widely shared public administrators' belief in corporate business models where power was properly centralized through a hierarchy led by a chief executive officer. Central planning was an article of faith, and only the president was central.
The famous public administration scholar Louis Brownlow and his 1937 President's Committee on Administrative Management (or "Brownlow Committee") recommended creation of direct presidential control over independent regulatory commissions and also a national planning apparatus for regional functions such as TVA-styled projects. As Congress was ever-zealous in protecting local and regional pork barrel policy as well as interest group services, those were both summarily rejected in 1937. But as the Brownlow Committee had initially stated, "The President needs help." It was true. Congress ultimately did respond to that. The 1939 session of the conservative-dominated 76th Congress approved Reorganization Plan No. 1 to create the White House Office with provisions for six personal administrative assistants to the President (Hart 1995, 31; Burke 2000, 11-12; US CODE--TITLE 5--Appendix - Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1939). The President on 8 September 1939 then issued Executive Order 8248 to create the first formally established personal staff positions. Only six posts were established at the start, but this has since grown to incorporate a large and powerful circle of the President's closest aides and is a hallmark of the modern presidency’s distinction from the historic office. Some of these personal staffers have assumed remarkably broad political influence over the Cabinet and permanent bureaucracy, leading to a "politicized" modern presidency (Moe 1985).
The Reorganization Act also created the Executive Office of the President (EOP, seen in its current form at FirstGov -- Executive Office of the President; or Executive Branch - Executive Office of the President). These staff positions were marked by professional expertise rather than personal closeness to the President. The Bureau of the Budget moved from the Department of Treasury to the EOP under direct presidential control (Hart 1995, 30; Moe 1985). Several other offices were also housed in the elaborate old Executive Office Building across the street from the White House (and linked to it by tunnel; see The Old Executive Office Building). This was all necessary organizational modernizing of an office which bore vastly expanded administrative responsibilities in 1939 compared to 1932. And more, it was a means by which future presidents routinely undertook not only administrative responsibilities, but also those of handling the annual budget, and preparation of a yearly legislative program including the systematic review of all agency-derived proposals through the device of "legislative clearance" (literally a single review of acceptability to the President of all agency proposals before they go the Capitol Hill; see Memoranda 01-12 -- Legislative Coordination and Clearance for a recent rendition; and American President- Presidency in Action - Domestic Policy). It is difficult to imagine operation of the modern presidency without these elementary administrative and managerial devices. This apparatus is an indispensable part of the modern presidency, one of the chief hallmarks distinguishing it from the older office. No president after 1939 can escape judgment on the basis of discharge of administrative duties.
This is not to say Roosevelt earns personal high marks for effective executive administration. Chaos, conflict, and exhaustion were the common order for Roosevelt Administration officials. FDR had the notorious habit of deliberately setting two or more bureaucratic power centers against one other by giving each the identical policy portfolio. It did have certain advantages. Matthew Dickinson borrows from Roger Porter the term "competitive adhocracy" to describe Roosevelt's unique penchant for pitting his own against each other (Porter 1980; Dickinson 1997a, 15). It was a sophisticated political strategy by which FDR ensured himself of receiving full political insight through the competition for his time and attention, thus ensuring that the President followed presidential scholar Richard Neustadt's later FDR-derived counsel that presidents must be their own political experts (Dickinson 1997b; Neustadt 1960). It probably did achieve this end more often than not for FDR in the 1930s. But no subsequent president truly has followed FDR there. Instead, the overwhelming size of the wartime and postwar administrative job rapidly led to institutional order via formal designations of which position-holders would do what jobs. Dickinson condemns this with considerable force and persuasion (1997b) as an instigator of bad advice and bad policy among later presidents. But FDR's approach has won no recent convert among office-holders.
III. The Conservative Coalition and Race Politics Next down; Top
This famous coalition rose to prominence in the 75th Congress of 1937-38 despite the overwhelming dominance of New Dealers, came to fruition in 1939-40 after the 75-seat gain and resurrection of Republicans in northern congressional seats in 1938, and proved an enduring power in Congress for the entire following generation (Shelley 1983; Responses to the Great Depression - Conservative Backlash; Texas Democrats and the Court Fight of 1937). It ruled on domestic rather than international issues during Roosevelt's second term, was far better at blocking liberal legislation than enacting its own measures, and never seriously put forth contenders for presidential nomination and election until 1964. Nonetheless its power was the major single constraint upon inheritors of New Deal traditions long after FDR passed from the scene.
Political coalitions thrive on unifying themes where the core beliefs of separate factions can converge in an alliance. For the New Deal coalition, the unifier was activist central government for liberal purposes. For the Conservative Coalition, that unifier was racial division. Republican participants in the coalition strongly denied the central role of racial division in maintenance of this cross-party arrangement, but to no avail. The common cause between southern Democratic conservatives and the largely rural and smaller-town non-southern GOP is seen in the signal defeat of the 1938 fair labor standards proposal to enact national minimum wage and hours requirements upon employers. The South had no significant presence of organized labor, and precious little sympathy for it. But it had plenty of agriculture, including specific commodities which quickly became accustomed to New Deal help. So in special session late in 1937, the urban-rural Democratic party yielded up a trade to pass agricultural subsidies for southern crops in exchange for enough votes to pass a fair labor standards law (Patterson 1967, 193-195). How would conservatives defeat that?
The answer was racial, and its key was the implicit nondiscrimination clause of most progressive legislation. National adoption of minimum wage standards applied to white, black, and immigrant Hispanic labor alike. For Republicans the opposition to fair labor standards followed traditional conservative ideology on management’s right to contract with labor for freely determined work. This held regardless of race. Southern Democrats owed nothing to labor but were part of the New Deal’s agricultural support system. The racial barrier to voting “yea” for fair labor standards existed because bettering the lot of black people invited a demagogic attack and defeat in the one-party white primary. They could try to add clauses to exclude blacks from those benefits, but Republicans could use that to brand Northern Democrats who dared to allow such a direct expression of the Jim Crow system.
Liberals were caught in a game of political heresthetics, or manipulation (Riker 1986, ch. 11; Heresthetics). National fair labor standards was a de facto racial issue despite lack of de jure racial terminology in the proposal or debate. The upshot was it died by a most revealing floor vote of 216 to 198. Republicans voted to kill by 83 to 16, Southern Democrats likewise by 81 to 18, and Northern Democrats went 52 to 164 the other way (Patterson 1967, 195-196). This was the first of many such outcomes.
Roosevelt understood the message in this. His links with the South were ample. James Farley had extensive relationships with the southern parties and financiers, especially in Texas. New Dealers from Texas and elsewhere understood the poisonous effect of race baiting on the New Deal and implored the President to avoid the question wherever possible. Quiet White House help for New Dealers won primaries in Florida, Texas and Alabama for New Dealers like Claude Pepper, Lister Hill and Maury Maverick--but only so long as race was off the agenda. The President received repeated pleas from Eleanor Roosevelt to speak to and politically attend the misfortunes of black sharecroppers (American PresidenT - Eleanor Roosevelt). He endorsed but did not otherwise act on this. He also saw but did not heed direct written pleas from black writers (Please Help Us Mr. President: Black Americans Write to FDR, 1935). Thus for civil rights legislation, nothing was done in the first term (Patterson 1967, 97-98). In 1937 it was the indefatigable Senator Wagner, not the President, who sent forth an anti-lynching measure (Patterson 1967, 156-157). It died in 1938 under a Senate filibuster conducted by southern segregationist Democrats, with Roosevelt sitting this one out.
Republicans had to avoid racial language in elections or face certain presidential defeat and many congressional losses in northern districts which disdained Jim Crow politics. But to win policy they had to ally with Southern Democrats. How could they accomplish both? First, they avoided appeals to the South in presidential campaigns, since that is a highly public enterprise dependent upon rhetorical defenses of the platform and nominee positions. Second, they made quiet arrangements inside Congress, at a time when C-SPAN and armies of roving reporters were absent. Confronted with suspicions of racial tinge, conservatives denied the coalition existed at all, or clothed its rationale in GOP fealty to a return of power to states and private citizenry.
Southern Democrats had different problems. Even the most demagogic race-baiting southerners wanted New Deal help, but it had to be filtered through the racial screen. So a deliberate use of southern racial fears was rhetorically linked to traditional GOP belief in state and local government, by southern hard-line conservatives using the language of states’ rights. Men like Congressman Howard Smith of Virginia understood that racial fear governed codebook language of states' rights, Jeffersonian devolution of power to local government, and elimination of federal intervention. Used with skill, it eventually forced Democrats of the 1960s to concede the jerry-built nature of their own newly expanded coalition. But not in FDR's own day.
IV . Isolationism and War Next down; Top
The war years usually get second billing after Roosevelt’s New Deal, but this may be ill-judged. That period had at least as much to do with creation of a permanent, powerful government headed by a robust presidency, as the New Deal period did. And this is true in domestic affairs, not in foreign policy alone.
There was a dramatic switch in focus from domestic New Deal to foreign war preparation and conduct. The dividing year was midway through the 12-year Roosevelt era, in his sixth presidential year of 1938. One can see this with a subject scan of the FDR Library's chronological list of 30 accepted Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fireside Chats covering March 1933 to late in 1944. The primary emphasis and topic focus undergoes an obvious shift marked by that year. The progression of FDR's foreign policy speeches at Table of Contents demonstrates a strong shift by FDR away from neutrality on Hitler's Germany. The 1933-38 installation of the domestic-policy New Deal was a marker for assumption of vastly increased presidential power over domestic and economic national policy. The 1938-45 period saw a like expansion in foreign policy of even greater dimensions.
The drive for New Deal reformism might have abated by 1939 no matter what happened in the 1938 midterm election. The President's personal preoccupation necessarily went abroad after the dual threats of Hitler's Germany and imperial Japan became obvious during 1938. As FDR protege Lyndon Johnson would learn a generation later, the modern presidency is still sufficiently personal that no President can lead a major domestic policy crusade and also successfully fight a major war. War forestalls important prewar legislative production of domestic policy reform. But war can also be revolutionary on the home front. World War II fostered large-scale movement to a permanent administrative presidency in charge of an activist central government. It produced a generation of returning war veterans to whom was owed a full governmental effort to underwrite their social well-being. The result was institutional permanence of the New Deal policy laid down in the first six Roosevelt years.
All reference to One Hundred Percent New Dealers and its conservative coalition opposition is on the New Deal itself. Foreign policy was quite a different matter. Here the primary question by 1938 became whether, and how, America would respond to rise of the fascist powers in Europe and Asia. Response after 1938 to this policy realm carved out an expansion of presidential power every bit as sweeping as domestic policy had seen in the preceding six years.
The U.S. Supreme Court envisioned a remarkably different presidential role in foreign as opposed to domestic policy. The same Court which in May 1935 declared New Deal policy unconstitutional under the commerce clause (Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States 295 U.S. 495 (1935)) and limited presidential power to remove members of independent regulatory commissions (Humphrey's Executor v. United States 295 U.S. 602 (1935); DOC BodyPage), issued a broad and controversial affirmation of presidential foreign policy power in December of 1936. In U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Corporation, 299 U.S. 304 (1936), the conservative Associate Justice George Sutherland, notorious among New Dealers as one of the anti-New Deal Four Horsemen, expressly affirmed the President's broad right to intervene in a case involving an American private firm's intervention in a minor foreign conflict. Sutherland's language drew a signal distinction between domestic and foreign policy, insisting that the central government drew authority only to exercise narrowly defined enumerated powers at home, yet in foreign matters "the President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation" as "the sole organ of the government in the field of international relations"; so Congress and others "must often accord to the President a degree of discretion and freedom from statutory restriction which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved."
A president as the sole organ of foreign policy; that is a breathtaking Hamiltonian assertion of unilateral presidential prerogative power. Why would this conservative anti-New Deal Court grant such broad executive authority in foreign affairs? First, several of the Founders conceived this realm as predominantly an executive one; Hamilton's famous assertions of executive energy and dispatch in Federalist No. 70 stood as testament. Second, there was no permanent institutional locus for regular foreign policy making except the executive. The Court itself had no capacity to conduct or enforce conduct of affairs with foreign states. Finally and most importantly, very few in 1936 envisioned how great the power of the United States and its chief executive would become on the international stage within the next decade. Heading a great international power only became part of the presidency in the 1940s as a result of World War II. The Court, the Congress and the American people in 1936 had almost no experience of America as a superpower.
Would the Congress also grant the President broad foreign authority while denying it at home? Not in FDR's second term of 1937 to 1941 where possible war was concerned. Foreign headlines in 1937 were uniformly grim, and 1938 was worse. In December 1937 the Japanese sank the American gunboat USS Panay in December 1937, inflaming patriotic anger but also fear that war entanglement would follow ("The United States and the Coming of World War II"; Panay). The great question in 1938 was whether the nation should intervene directly or indirectly as Europe and Eastern Asia spun closer and closer to war. Congressional opponents proposed a Ludlow Amendment in January 1938 rendition to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit Congress from declaring war without a prior majority vote of the nation's citizenry. It now had a serious chance of passage in Congress as the salience of the European and Japanese threats rose. FDR vigorously opposed this as an imposition on presidential power to make foreign policy (President Roosevelt to the Speaker of the House Of Representatives (Bankhead) on the Ludlow Amendment, 6 January 1938; parent source: Documents Relating to the Interwar Period, 1919-1939 in year 1938).
As a constitutional amendment, Ludlow would require a two-thirds vote for passage. That was impossible, but Roosevelt also wanted to keep the proposal off the House floor and away from an open debate about merits of American international entanglements. That meant getting a majority vote to keep it off the House floor in particular. Ludlow and allies forced the issue on 10 January 1938 with a House maneuver to discharge a committee and oblige all Members to cast floor votes on the proposal. FDR fought to prevent that.
The conservative coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans was not Roosevelt's problem--despite their abiding suspicions of FDR's domestic ambitions. The traditionally militaristic South largely supported Roosevelt's efforts to end American isolation and weigh in for the British side against Nazi Germany. In addition, the largely agricultural South had always favored reciprocal free trade with Europe for sake of export markets, and they cared less than the industrial north about protectionism for manufactured goods that faced European competition. The congressmen from the 11 southern states voted by 80 to 17 against Ludlow on the 10 January vote.
Roosevelt's primary difficulty came from the heavily isolationist Midwest and the prairie and mountain west, where presided many progressive Democrats and some surviving "Main Street" Republicans in the 75th House. Ethnic identity was a factor in regional acceptance of Ludlow. For example, progressive Wisconsin had a large German-American population which disliked American World War I entry and suffered numerous private and governmentally sponsored indignities as a result. In the 1920s the socialist German-American Congressman Victor Berger of Milwaukee served a jail term for advocating resistance to the draft, after which he returned to Congress. The progressives were reliable pro-New Dealers, but they reflected district sentiments against American entanglement in the 1936 Spanish civil war, the 1937 Japanese attack on China, or other foreign troubles. Only a few city machine loyalists stayed with Roosevelt's desire to avoid the constraining foreign policy effect of Ludlow. Outside the cities, Iowa voted 7 to 2 for Ludlow, Minnesota 8 to 3, Wisconsin 8 to 0, the five prairie states north of Texas 17 to 4. Overall, Ludlow was kept off the floor by only 21 votes, with 188 in favor, 209 opposed, and 25 not voting in the 75th House.
So Roosevelt's foreign policy was not directly hurt by Ludlow. Nonetheless he had little real success in overriding the basic antipathy of Americans to involvement in warfare across either ocean insulating the country from aggressors. Isolationist rhetoric reflected real public sentiment, as Roosevelt knew. By the late 1930s the first sophisticated national public opinion polling had come into widespread use. Sampling of war and peace questions consistently showed a lack of firm American commitment on behalf of a belligerent pose toward Hitler (Farnham 1997, 216-217f163). Americans were revolted by the barbaric activities of that regime, but were also deeply inimical to another U.S. military intervention in Europe. Although the Ludlow constitutional amendment failed, neutrality laws were popular with Congress in this era above any other times (Neutrality Acts - Google News Archive Search including 1920-1939). These reflected the determination for American to stay as disengaged as possible with belligerents abroad.
Rhetorically, first in 1936 and often later, Roosevelt issued declaratory 'I hate war' pronouncement to disavow belligerent intentions. But he also used ingenious indirect ways to circumvent the restrictions of formal neutrality-law prohibition on trade with belligerents. Since the law had an embargo list of prohibited goods, FDR sought and got congressional acceptance in 1937 of a "cash-and-carry" provision requiring that all belligerents pay cash and then carry non-embargoed goods on their own ships (The Neutrality Act of 1937). He also tried the idea of "Quarantine" in October 1937 (FDR Quarantine Speech), but took no direct actions as the Germans and Japanese increased their armaments and belligerent actions by the month.
Roosevelt nonetheless gradually moved the nation to a direct partnership with Great Britain against Hitler's regime. All indications are that Hitler himself was decisive in moving American public opinion and elite consensus toward Great Britain. War in Europe finally broke out with Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. There followed the strange 'sitzkrieg' whereby Britain and France tried to rearm while Germany was occupied with its eastern conquests. That ended with catastrophe in May and June 1940 as the 'blitzkrieg' or "lightning war" rapidly defeated France and relegated British forces to their fortress island. American alarm rose, congressional appropriations for military preparations suddenly flowed freely, and Roosevelt was able to use creative subterfuges such as interpreting the 1937 "cash and carry" law to sell arms to Great Britain but not deliver them there. More, in December 1940 with Great Britain in dire financial condition, FDR employed the euphemistic "lend lease" where the U.S. supposed lent its neighbor a fire hose to put out the neighbor's fire, after which the hose is returned. On 11 March 1941 this produced the landmark Lend-Lease Act from Congress (Cray 1990; Davis 1993; Lend-Lease - Wikipedia; Hancock and Gowing, HyperWar British War Economy [Chapter IX] - Growth of American Support). That meant shipment of goods to Britain amidst the lethal U-boat campaign by Germany against the island country, and was tantamount to war in Hitler's eyes. Yet even here, the U.S. did not directly enter the European war theater as a combatant until the German declaration of war on the U.S. following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.
V. Wartime Domestic Policy Next down; Top
Conservatives dominated Congress from the 1938 midterm (76th Congress, 1939-1940) through wartime and after, culminating in the 1946 midterm election of the Republican-controlled 80th Congress of 1947-48. Republicans hit their lowest seat share in history in 1936 with only 89 House seats and 16 in the Senate, but by recession-hit 1938 the GOP regained par status in 1938 in House seats with non-southern Democrats at about 160 each. They held that in 1940, then jumped another 45 House seats in 1942 midterms for a hefty 205 to 115 seat advantage over Northern Democrats. And by 1942 Senate Republicans held 37 seats, Northern Democrats held 37, and Southern Democrats from 11 states had 22. In 1944 the GOP lost the presidency again to Roosevelt, but returned to Congress with little loss of seats. All this came while the one-party segregationist South returned 103 House and 22 Senate incumbent Democrats to Congress at a time when internal seniority rules had very great significance. Nearly every important Democratic power broker within Congress hailed from southern or border states.
This political arithmetic governed FDR's domestic relations with Congress as surely as in the salad days of 1933-1938. Roosevelt's congressional bank account for domestic reform and extension of the New Deal was almost empty. The conservative coalition blocked Roosevelt legislative proposals whenever leadership of either bloc wished. Roosevelt's personal preoccupation was the war, and he lacked a fulltime complement of assistants to tend domestic affairs on the Hill. But even his full attention and a corps of skilled White House lobbyists could not have overcome the balance of power. Congress basically did as conservatives wished on domestic initiatives and ignored FDR's complaints. In late third term these watchful professionals also noted FDR's personal decline of health and energy, something impossible to miss in filmed retrospectives by early 1944 (Renka, FDR Photographic Record). In March 1944 FDR audaciously vetoed a tax measure after Congress voted only $2 billion of the $10.5 billion increase the Treasury had recommended. This was overridden by singular margins, 299 to 95 in the House and 72 to 14 in the Senate (Friedel 1990, 501-503; Milkis 1993, 149).
Brinkley's intellectual history of liberal reformism from 1938 shows the futility of trying for furtherance of a broad welfare state (Brinkley 1995). Roosevelt with utmost skill voiced broad ideals in the famous "Four Freedoms" State of the Union Address of 6 January 1941 (Powers of Persuasion; Luminet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The Four Freedoms). Two of those--freedom of religion, freedom of speech--were established. The other two--freedom from want, freedom from fear--evoked an inherent linkage between fighting abroad and struggling at home for a decent life for oneself and one's children. All four were accompanied by the immensely popular issuance of posters, one per principle, by the Saturday Evening Post illustrator Norman Rockwell. A better evocation of reasons to fight for one's country would be difficult to find, and each one helped to sell war bonds. But for domestic reformers seeking freedom from want, it went for naught.
These events were a deep disappointment for committed New Dealers. But all conservatives who dreamed of pre-1933 would be equally disappointed. By spring 1939 Roosevelt had had six full years to build the coalition, and its core policies remained firmly in place during the 1939-1948 conservative period. Conservatives did not curb the growth or influence of organized labor, which by 1944 had unprecedented influence at the national convention. Neither did they reverse the historic move of big city political machines, some of which had been GOP-run, to the Democrats. And black voters had switched heavily to the Democrats, meaning that both parties now had a tangible national campaign stake in pursuing civil rights policy. Intellectuals, including many leading members of syndicated press organizations, moved firmly to the New Deal banner. Small town, voluntarism ideals of the conservative GOP wing did not impress observers who saw and shared in the movement of capital and political power more and more to large institutions based in great urban centers.
All this was too much for those who would roll back the New Deal. The conservative coalition was always chiefly a blocking coalition (Brady and Bullock 1980) with the customary deficiencies of a congressionally centered coalition. Its leadership lacked a positive plan of its own for overturning the New Deal. And FDR possessed the presidential veto, which he exercised often during wartime congressional sessions, making its implicit use a potent bartering device. Despite the March 1944 tax case, successful overrides were rare.
Finally there was the War itself. War on such large scale was the chief aid to elementary principles underlying the New Dealers' concept of a large, active central government. A major war introduces a level of central planning in the allocation of resources which is otherwise alien to the American experience. Price and supply management, central rationing, alliances of government with private defense contractors which became so entangled that none could be called 'private'--all this accompanied World War II. So also did a vast increase in taxation, at the very time that progressive taxation had been written into code by New Dealers before 1938. Conservatives chipped away at the edges of that, but wartime revenue imperatives overrode such actions as surely as seasons pass.
VI. The Wartime Administrative Presidency Next down; Top
Congress today has large bureaucratic units under its direct control. That was not true in the 1930s or 1940s. Congress in those days was not even a year-round institution. Its annual sessions began in January and ended characteristically in time for August escape from the District of Columbia's oppressive summer heat and humidity. Large-scale administration inevitably would be housed in separate executive branch departments, or directly under White House control. The move toward the latter began in 1939.
We have seen that Roosevelt presided over creation of administrative help in early 1939. Political historian Sidney Milkis argues persuasively that the New Deal's survival after 1938 required a presidential administrative apparatus to ensure its continuation. This he calls the 'Third New Deal' (Milkis 1993). Unlike the first two, this one relied little upon congressional assent after its initiation.
Congress saw a move to maintain tight legislative control over presidential administrative actions. The 1939 passage of the Reorganization Act was preceded by consideration of a hostile amendment to require that both houses of Congress approve all reorganization plans within 60 days, or else the plan would die. This passed the Senate by 45 to 44 until FDR supporters managed its narrow reversal with Senator Harry Truman's help and some old-fashioned horse trading (Milkis 1993, 126-127; Friedel 1990, 278). Thenceforth the measure passed with a different congressional veto, stipulating that plans would go into effect unless both houses disapproved. This might appear a small difference to the novitiate, but the first requires congressional assent to each presidential move, while the next merely lets Congress intervene post hoc if it has the votes and the willpower to do that. When the executive can act first, congressional vigilance is very rarely enough to reverse the action. That proved true during the war. Roosevelt's Executive Order 8248 issued on 8 September 1939 established the White House Office, but it also quietly provided for the president to exercise emergency authority without prior congressional approval (Mayer 2001, p. 110). FDR first employed that power in 1940 to create the Office for Emergency Management (OEM), and later "used executive orders in the absence of legislative authority to establish dozens of wartime agencies within the OEM. It was a pattern of presidential bootstrapping; each successive order or action was based on a previous order, with the trail ending at E.O. 8248." (Mayer 2001, 111; U.S. Government Manual--1945 [Executive Branch]). This pathway was to be well-trod after the war by presidents seeking both foreign and domestic policy initiatives without (or sometimes alongside) congressional assent.
The period from 1939 to 1948 became the watershed of modern executive organization under Democratic pro-New Deal presidents who faced relatively or openly hostile congresses (76th through 80th Congresses at Presidents and Congress). The budget office was at the center of this. Although many scholars identify the 1921 creation of an executive budget as the true start of the institutional presidency, the full realization of how this enhanced presidential power became brilliantly evident mainly from 1939 on (Neustadt 1954; Fisher 1975; Berman 1979; Mayer 2001, Chapters 4, 5). Congress permitted Reorganization Plan No. 1 to create the White House Office (WHO) in 1939 and to move budget functions directly under presidential control (Reorganization Act of 1939 > Implementation and impact). During the war years the federal budget grew immensely to reflect wartime spending. The Bureau of the Budget (BOB) was reorganized to assume full programmatic review and budgetary controls over the executive branch--in direct service to the President instead of the Department of Treasury in the Cabinet. BOB also became a managerial clearinghouse under vigorous direction of Director Harold Smith. The conservative coalition killed another FDR unit, the National Resources Planning Board, which smacked of excessive domestic policy centralization even in wartime (Brinkley 1995, 245-261; Hart 1995, 34-35; Milkis 1993, 130). But the Planning Board's functions were quietly transferred over to BOB for Keynesian-styled economic planning under Director of the Budget Harold Smith.
Most war agencies survived to postwar. One exception, the ration-issuing Office of Price Administration, "may have been the must intrusive federal bureaucracy ever created in America" (Brinkley 1995, 147). Wartime rationing came to cover practically everything and was promoted as the home front's way to win the war (The Victory Home A WWII Home Front Reference Library). Ration books were issued with remarkable detail on what one could or could not buy (Records from War: Ration Books for Genealogy World War Two (1942 - 1945); Digital Collection -WWII War Ration Book 2). Prices of basic food commodities plus gasoline were frozen by OPA edict from March 1942 for the duration of the war (World War II Rationing). This stayed intact until conservatives finally dismantled the Office in postwar June and July 1946 as domestic interests clamored for release from war production and pricing restraints.
Another wartime creation, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), survived the postwar stand-down and ultimately formed the backbone of the 1947 creation of a Central Intelligence Agency. That was the norm, and OPA's demise the exception.
Why did all this happen? First and primarily, administrative growth responded to the wartime necessity for large, complex bureaucracies. Skeptics feared that putting agencies directly under presidential control meant politicization in place of neutral administrative competence. There are grounds for that, although with BOB of the 1940s this remains in dispute (Moe 1983; Wolf 1999). Agencies have learned to balance politics with technical command in service to presidents. When politics collides with competence, agencies remain in service to presidents, albeit with occasional acts of sabotage such as leaking to the press by dissident professionals in the agencies. Congress has never demanded a full cessation of this trend, nor can it realistically ever do so.
It rose secondly in short-term response to decline of the President's personal energy reserves. Roosevelt was dying of congestive heart failure in 1944--a closely guarded secret, but FDR's physical decline could not be doubted as calendar 1944 wore on (Renka, FDR Photographs during the War; Doctor Zebra, President Franklin Roosevelt Health & Medical History). Healthy or not, no modern president can personally oversee and directly administer anything so complex as a modern executive branch of a major nation-state. Governing through agents is a necessity.
Finally, executive administration had the great political advantage for FDR of circumventing the Congress at a time of predominantly conservative dominion there. This grouping of wartime policy institutions had furtherance of New Deal policy always on its agenda. Sidney Milkis argues that "the modern presidency that emerged from the executive Reorganization Act was created to chart the course for and direct the voyage to a more liberal America (Milkis 1993, 132)." Harry S. Truman in April 1945 would inherit and oversee the additional growth of this apparatus, including creation in 1946 of the Council of Economic Advisors and, in 1947, launching of that quintessential Cold War institution known as the National Security Council.
We know today that administrative controls are as readily employed for conservative presidential causes as liberal ones. What a President Clinton achieves through administrative channels, a President Bush can conceivably alter or reverse. But either way, vigorous executive administration furthers presidential policy objectives when the President makes those objectives clearly and forcefully known. FDR certainly did that even as the war drew most of his dwindling energy and resources elsewhere. When he died, the foundation of the administrative modern presidency was largely in place.
VII. Conclusion: FDR and Modernism Top
Hardly an aspect of the modern presidency cannot be traced to origins in FDR's unprecedented reign of 145 months and 9 days. The nation in 1945 had changed immeasurably since 1933. No other President passed to successors an office so revised, so enlarged in scope, as FDR did to Harry S. Truman on 12 April 1945. Even the political calendar underwent serious revision to acknowledge that central governance was fulltime work. A new and enduring political coalition had been fashioned, one predicated on a powerful central government. There is unlikely to ever again be a Harding or Coolidge type of presidential administration. This owes not to personality or character of presidents, but rather to the lack of permission for presidents to be political bystanders of that sort. Modern presidents have been a central part of a huge, even overly active central government of a world power since FDR's day. Modern presidents must address the public regularly, send policy agendas to Congress, manage and answer for the national economy, run the executive branch, and make known American foreign policy to everyone across the globe. All these are now givens, but none happened automatically before FDR assumed the office.
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 Milkis (1993, 62-63) records a wonderful quote from Robert Vann, the black owner-editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, who said the GOP was "indolently draw[ing] checks against the debt of the Civil War, without troubling themselves further with the lot of colored people." Vann saw the political future more clearly than most.
 One of the business defectors to the Republicans was William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon who had contributed greatly to ensuring the first nomination of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. See Milkis 1993, 68.
 There is a graphic
measure of the alignment of Southern Democrats with Republicans in the House and
Senate via Keith Poole's website portrayals of ideological alignment of Members
of Congress on recorded votes (roll call votes). See Poole's Voteview site
and refer directly to The 75th (1937-38) Congress
for the first Congress of the second FDR term. From there one can scroll
Back or Forward for each biennial congress. By scrolling forward in time
from The 73rd (1933-34) Congress, one sees
that the Southern Democrats (labeled on the left with "S" rather than "D") are
increasingly moving rightward or closer to the mainstream location of the
Republicans (labeled with "R"). That's on the first-dimension or main
Also there is vertical or top-down secondary axis based primarily on racial issues; and here the Southern Democrats are strongly clustered at the top in deference to their unique defense of Jim Crow racial segregation.
The scroll is also extremely useful for demonstrating the dramatic change of fortunes of the two congressional parties from the 71st Congress of 1929-30 (Republican dominance) to the GOP nadir of the 75th (1937-38), to rebirth with the 76th (1939-40), and ultimately to a majority in the Truman term of the 80th (1947-48). Both the 435-member House on the left side and the 96-member Senate on the right hand show the pattern.
 This pronouncement has not gained much respect from later observers of the Court and the presidency who see Sutherland’s language as impermissibly vague and therefore without suitable grounding in the Constitution. Nonetheless, Curtiss-Wright is often cited in foreshadowing the Court’s later lack of constraint on the Cold War presidency’s conduct of foreign policy. The full text is on line at DOC BodyPage. Recent affirmation of its importance is Andrew Rudalevige's The New Imperial Presidency (2005), p. 47.
 The rurally based GOP also enjoyed an inherent structural advantage in House seats. From 1910 to the mid-1960s Congress became increasingly prone to malapportionment of seats. As people moved en masse off the farms to cities, emptied congressional districts were kept while rapidly growing cities were underrepresented. On balance, the 'rotten borough' problem helped Republicans against Northern Democrats.
Copyright©2001-2010, Russell D. Renka
February 05, 2010 10:44 AM